Corruption claims hang over President Chirac

12th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 11, 2007 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac faces an uncertain future after he steps down in May because of corruption allegations dating from his 18 years as mayor of Paris.

PARIS, March 11, 2007 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac faces an uncertain future after he steps down in May because of corruption allegations dating from his 18 years as mayor of Paris.

Since leaving Paris City Hall in 1995, Chirac's name has been linked to a string of party financing and other scandals -- known collectively in France as "les affaires".

One case came close to drawing in Chirac in 2001, when magistrates sought to question him over large sums of cash paid for personal travel expenses while he was mayor.

Chirac refused, claiming a presidential immunity which was later backed up by France's highest appeals court. This ruling enabled him to avoid questioning for the rest of his time in office.

A constitutional reform adopted this year confirmed that French presidents are immune from questioning or prosecution while in office, but can face charges the moment they stand down.

When he retires in May, Chirac could theoretically be questioned in at least four cases.

Two surround the illegal use of Paris city funds to pay staff and sympathisers of his Rally for the Republic (RPR) party, since then assimilated into the ruling Union for a Popular Movement.

Chirac's close friend and confidant, the former prime minister Alain Juppe, was convicted January 2004 for his role in that scheme, receiving a suspended jail sentence and a year-long ban on holding public office.

A third case surrounds a Paris printing firm which is suspected of rigging public tender contracts and of funding the RPR via the mayor's office.

Chirac's former right-hand man at City Hall, Michel Roussin, was convicted in 2005 along with 42 politicians, party officials and businessmen over a similar system that rigged public works contracts to fund the RPR.

The last case focuses on allegations that Chirac and his wife Bernadette accepted free air tickets from the charter airline Euralair -- relaunched in 2004 as Air Horizons -- in the run-up to the 1995 presidential election.

Several other affairs implicating Chirac have been dropped, such as a probe into entertainment bills of more than two million euros clocked up by Chirac and his wife while at City Hall.

The left-wing opposition has attacked Chirac's recent decision to name an ally to the key post of Paris state prosecutor, accusing him of trying to bury the remaining allegations against him.

Chirac's name was linked to the question of illegal party funding in 2000 when a public works contractor revealed in a posthumous video the details of the RPR's fundraising scams -- and claimed Chirac was present during one handover of cash in 1986.

All of France's major political parties have been found guilty of illegal funding scams from the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then public financing has been introduced and the succession of scandals has dried up.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, President Jacques Chirac

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