Chirac trial dodge with senator-for-life plan

14th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 14 (AFP) - Supporters of French President Jacques Chirac are pushing for a constitutional change that would make him a senator-for-life after he leaves office and thus shield him from the threat of future legal proceedings, newspapers reported Friday.

PARIS, Jan 14 (AFP) - Supporters of French President Jacques Chirac are pushing for a constitutional change that would make him a senator-for-life after he leaves office and thus shield him from the threat of future legal proceedings, newspapers reported Friday.

The proposed measure would mean that all former presidents become automatic members of the upper house of parliament - instead of joining the constitutional council, France's highest judicial authority, which they do under the existing arrangement.

Chirac, 72, cannot be prosecuted as long as he remains president, but when he steps down he risks being placed under judicial investigation in connection with a series of party-finance scams during his 18-year tenure as mayor of Paris.

By becoming a life senator, the conservative president would enjoy parliamentary immunity which would make it extremely difficult - though not impossible - to bring him before the courts, the left-leaning Liberation and Le Monde newspapers said.

The risk of being made to face trial after he loses his presidential immunity is believed to be a major factor in Chirac's deliberations over whether to stand for an unprecedented third term in 2007. So far he has assiduously kept the possibility open.

The new proposal, which would require a change to the country's 1958 constitution, is being promoted by senator Patrice Gelard - a leading Chirac supporter - and will be formally tabled in the Senate next Tuesday, Le Monde said.

But both papers agreed that its chances of success were small, as any constitutional change would have to confirmed by referendum.

Gelard told Liberation that the measure is primarily aimed at another former president - Valery Giscard D'Estaing - who is frustrated by the rules of strict neutrality that he is obliged to observe as a member of the constitutional council and wants greater fredom to speak out.

"It's not a question of any particular individual. But it seems to me incongruous that a former president such as Giscard should be forced to submit to a rule of non-interference in public debate," he said.

"It seems perfectly normal that he should be able to share his ideas on any number of subjects. The question of the European constitution is the prime example," he said. Giscard D'Estaing headed the Convention that drew up the EU constitution.

But Gelard did not deny that the measure could also offer a potential lifeline to Chirac, Liberation said.

Chirac was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, during which time courts have established that his Rally for the Republic (RPR) party resorted to a number of illegal devices to raise money by using its influence at city hall.

Attempts by investigating magistrates to question Chirac on the affair foundered over his presidential immunity. But last year his close ally former prime minister Alain Juppe was given a 14-month suspended jail term along with a one-year ban on holding elected office for his role in raising the money.

Liberation said the chances of the constitutional amendment were slim, but it quoted an unnamed Chirac aide as saying that the idea was a useful "trial balloon" to see how public opinion reacts.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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