Chirac 'very well' despite Alzheimer's claim

31st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

French former president Jacques Chirac insisted he was in good health on Monday and his wife denied reports he has Alzheimer's disease, saying he will show up at his corruption trial next month.

A judge meanwhile rebuffed a bid by Chirac's lawyer to defer the trial, France's first ever prosecution of a former president.

The weekly Journal du Dimanche had quoted unnamed friends of Chirac, 78, as saying he had memory lapses and that his wife Bernadette feared he had the dementia-causing brain disease Alzheimer's. He had a minor stroke in 2005.

"The doctors said he didn't have Alzheimer's and I believe them," Bernadette told Europe 1 radio.

The reports had raised the question of whether Chirac might seek to avoid trial on health grounds.

"Do I look like I am not well?" Chirac asked a reporter from French television channel BFMTV when approached outside his home on Monday. "I am very well, thank you. I wish you the same good health."

He did not comment on the trial but his wife told the radio: "He said he would go to his trial and he will."

Chirac's lawyers pushed for a deferral on procedural grounds, but a judge rejected their request and said the trial would go ahead on March 7.

Chirac faces allegations that public funds were used to pay ghost worker salaries to his political allies when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

Overall, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros (200,000 dollars) on charges including embezzlement and breach of trust.

He has denied any knowledge of corrupt payments and his lawyers have accused magistrates of political motives.

Chirac regularly polls as one of France's most popular political figures despite being linked to a series of corruption scandals. He has never been convicted and as president from 1995 to 2007 he was immune from prosecution.

In September, Paris city council agreed to accept a payment of more than 2.2 million euros from Chirac and his right-wing UMP party in exchange for dropping a civil suit against him.

An anti-corruption group, Anticor, has lodged a legal challenge against the out-of-court settlement, calling for it to be annulled and for the civil suit to go ahead.

Without one, he would likely be acquitted as state prosecutors, who are ultimately under government authority, have called for charges to be dropped.

Chirac's lawyer Jean Veil asked the court for the trial to be put on hold pending the outcome of a separate judgment on Anticor's complaint.

Anticor's lawyer Jerome Karsenty branded Veil's move a "manipulation".

"Behind this is the fact that people do not want the trial to take place," he told the court.

The court rejected Veil's request and ruled that two separate sets of corruption charges against Chirac can be heard in a single trial set to run from March 7 to April 8.

Several politicians slammed Sunday's newspaper article as a breach of France's much-prized respect for personal privacy, which extends to politicians.

"Why don't we leave Jacques Chirac in peace?" said Luc Chatel, the current education minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, speaking on France Inter radio.

"He is no longer president and his health is nothing to do with anyone but him and his family."

Bernadette Chirac acknowledged that her husband was ageing and had "some difficulties walking and hearing" and "sometimes memory trouble", but he could also be "dazzling," she said.

France's Defence Minister Alain Juppe, formerly prime minister in Chirac's government, who was himself convicted and handed a suspended jail sentence in 2004 in a related corruption affair, said his old ally was "on good form".

"I met Jacques Chirac two or three weeks ago at his office in Paris. I found him on good form. We had a friendly and deep discussion," Juppe told a news conference in Bordeaux, where he is also mayor.

Juppe decline to comment on the forthcoming trial.

© 2011 AFP

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