Chirac party allies face trial over kickback scandal

20th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 21 (AFP) - Senior allies of French President Jacques Chirac are to appear in court Monday in a corruption case examining allegations that kickbacks were paid for public works contracts to finance political parties.

PARIS, March 21 (AFP) - Senior allies of French President Jacques Chirac are to appear in court Monday in a corruption case examining allegations that kickbacks were paid for public works contracts to finance political parties.

A total of 47 people have been called into the dock, including four former ministers, accused of participating in the scheme that saw more than EUR 70 million (USD 93 million) allegedly paid by building firms in order to secure bids to renovate secondary schools around the capital.

Although the allegations stem from an arrangement that lasted from 1989 to 1997, Chirac - who was Paris mayor during much of that time and who founded the Rally for the Republic Party (RPR) that was one of the beneficiaries of kickbacks - will not be called, having invoked presidential immunity from legal scrutiny.

Those who will appear include Michel Roussin, 65, who for many years served as Chirac's cabinet director at Paris town hall and was cooperation minister in the government of Edouard Balladur from 1993 to 1995.

Also appearing are Michel Giraud, 75, former president of the Ile-de-France regional council and labour minister; Gerard Longuet, 59, former Republican party president and industry minister; and Guy Drut, 54, who was sports minister from 1995 to 1997 and is now on the committee for the Paris 2012 Olympic bid.

The other defendants include the former treasurers from the three parties as well as businessmen accused of fixing the building market in defiance of competition laws.

It is alleged several of the politicians benefited personally from the kickbacks. Some of the accused face a maximum term of 10 years in jail.

According to prosecutors, the kickbacks involved companies funnelling back two percent of the money paid by the regional Ile-de-France council, with 1.2 percent going to the RPR and its ally, the PR, and 0.8 percent going to the Socialist Party (PS).

The investigation, which began in 1997 after a tip-off, came close to drawing in Chirac himself four years later, when magistrates began looking into large sums of cash which were paid for his personal travel expenses while he was mayor of Paris.

Chirac refused to appear before the judges, and the case led to a landmark ruling from the high court of appeal that serving presidents are immune from judicial proceedings.

The trial, which is set to last till July, follows last year's conviction of another senior Chirac aide - former prime minister Alain Juppe - for paying RPR staff with municipal funds. An investigation is also underway into the alleged rigging of the Paris public housing market during the early 1990s.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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