Corruption probe clouds Chirac's green retirement

15th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 15, 2007 (AFP) - France's former leader Jacques Chirac might have hoped for a quiet retirement devoted to saving the planet, but those dreams could be dented on Saturday when his presidential immunity expires and he may face questioning in a corruption probe.

PARIS, June 15, 2007 (AFP) - France's former leader Jacques Chirac might have hoped for a quiet retirement devoted to saving the planet, but those dreams could be dented on Saturday when his presidential immunity expires and he may face questioning in a corruption probe.

And the 74-year-old this week faced further trouble when he was accused of "treason" for allegedly helping the government of Djibouti cover up the truth behind the suspicious death of a French judge a decade ago.

Chirac handed over to his successor Nicolas Sarkozy a month ago after 12 years in office.

In his final days in the Elysee palace, he laid the groundwork for a new foundation, modelled on those set up by Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, to promote causes close to his heart: protecting the environment and sustainable development.

But Chirac's immediate concern may be the prospect of being hauled in for questioning by a judge probing an illegal party-funding scheme that dates back to his time as mayor of Paris, more than a decade ago.

His presidential immunity expires on Saturday June 16, a month after he left office.

A justice official said in March it was "most probable" he would be questioned as a witness in the probe into a kickback scheme in which workers for Chirac's former party, the Rally for the Republic (RPR), had salaries paid for by Paris city hall or companies that won contracts there.

The so-called "fake jobs" scandal led in 2003 to a series of prosecutions of senior RPR members, including Chirac's close ally Alain Juppe who received a suspended jail term in 2004 and a year-long ban on public office.

Resigning his elected positions as parliamentary deputy and mayor of Bordeaux, he handed over leadership of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the successor party to the RPR, to Sarkozy.

Juppe, now back in office as government number two under Sarkozy, was interviewed by police a month ago as a witness in connection with the long-standing case.

Sarkozy, whose relations with Chirac have long been tense, denied a media report he had struck a deal to shield him from the probe in exchange for his backing in the election he won against the Socialist Segolene Royal.

Another long-running case that might darken Chirac's twilight years is the so-called Clearstream political dirty tricks scandal.

The affair centred on fake bank documents bearing names of prominent figures -- including Sarkozy -- falsely alleged to have received illegal commissions from the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

Sarkozy claimed he was the victim of a dirty tricks campaign to block his presidential bid.

According to this week's edition of the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, judges are waiting until Chirac's immunity runs out to question him as a witness in the case, and could begin as soon as Monday.

The Paris prosecutors' office however quickly denied the report.

Chirac has kept a low profile since leaving office, taking a holiday in Morocco and getting his new foundation organised.

But he came under the spotlight again for yet another long-running affair on Wednesday centring on the suspicious death of a French judge in Djibouti.

Elisabeth Borrel, who believes her husband Bernard Borrel was murdered by Djibouti agents, said France cooperated with Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh's efforts to bury the affair because of fears of losing its military base in the tiny east African state.

Her lawyers said Chirac had committed "treason" because he had advised Guelleh to take France before the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the French criminal investigation into the death.

And there are three other cases in which investigators are waiting to talk to the former president as soon as he becomes a simple citizen again.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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