Chirac graft trial can go ahead, top court rules

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The corruption trial of France's former president Jacques Chirac can go ahead, a top appeals court ruled Friday, rejecting a constitutional challenge.

Lawyers for one of the co-defendants of Chirac, who is accused of embezzling public funds as mayor of Paris in the 1990s, had argued that some of the charges were unconstitutional under the statute of limitations.

The country's highest appeals court ruled however that the constitutional concerns raised, which caused the trial to be postponed on its second day in March, were not valid.

The court "decided that there was no grounds to refer these questions to the Constitutional Council," the body that would have ultimately ruled on the challenge, the judges said in a statement.

Chirac, 78, the first former French president to go on trial, is accused of using public funds to pay people working for his party ahead of his successful 1995 election bid. He has denied knowledge of any illegal payments.

A court on March 8 suspended the trial so that constitutional authorities could examine whether certain charges that date back nearly two decades were still admissible. The postponement drew criticism from anti-corruption campaigners.

Chirac is one of France's most popular political figures, best known abroad for opposing the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

He is the first French former head of state to face criminal charges since the leader of the collaborationist wartime regime, Marshal Philippe Petain, was convicted of treason after World War II.

If found guilty, Chirac faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros ($210,000) on charges including embezzlement and breach of trust.

State prosecutors, who are under the hierarchical authority of the government, have called for the case to be dismissed, raising the likelihood that Chirac will avoid conviction.

Paris city hall last year dropped its civil charges against him in return for a payment of more than 2.2 million euros, from him and the right-wing UMP party.

Chirac paid more than half a million euros of this from his own pocket but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

The presiding judge in March proposed that trial hearings be rescheduled for around June 20.

© 2011 AFP

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