Ex-ministers sentenced in French corruption trial

27th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 26 (AFP) - Three former ministers, including a close ally of President Jacques Chirac, were convicted Wednesday of helping to rig public works contracts to obtain illegal party funding at the end of France's biggest-ever political corruption trial.

PARIS, Oct 26 (AFP) - Three former ministers, including a close ally of President Jacques Chirac, were convicted Wednesday of helping to rig public works contracts to obtain illegal party funding at the end of France's biggest-ever political corruption trial.

Forty-three defendants -- including politicians, party officials and representatives of some of France's biggest building companies -- were found guilty by a Paris court, bringing to an end four months of proceedings.

Punishments ranged from fines to suspended jail terms to, in one case, time behind bars. Four other defendants were acquitted.

The trial dealt with one of a series of financial scandals dating back to Chirac's long tenure to 1995 as mayor of Paris.

It centred on kickbacks worth more than 70 million euros (93 million dollars) allegedly paid by building firms in order to secure bids to renovate secondary schools around the capital.

Under a secret arrangement that lasted from 1989 to 1997, companies funnelled back two percent of the money paid by the regional Ile-de-France council, according to the prosecution.

Of that money, more than half went to Chirac's RPR and its ally the Republican party (PR), and the rest went to the Socialists. The RPR and PR have since been assimilated into the Union for a Popular Movement, France's ruling conservative party.

Michel Roussin, 66, who for many years served as Chirac's cabinet director at Paris city hall and was cooperation minister from 1993 to 1995, was handed a four-year suspended sentence and fined 50,000 euros (60,000 dollars) for his role in the scheme.

A former president of the Ile-de-France regional council and labour minister, Michel Giraud, 76, also received a four-year suspended sentence as well as a 80,000-euro fine.

The former sports minister Guy Drut, 54, who now sits on the International Olympic Committee, was handed a 15-month suspended sentence and fined 50,000 euros for creating a bogus job as part of the scheme.

Louise-Yvonne Casetta, 62, a former RPR treasurer, was given a 20-month suspended sentence and fined 10,000 euros.

The former Socialist Party (PS) treasurer Gerard Peybernes, the only figure from the left-wing party to stand trial, was handed a 15-month suspended sentence and fined 8,000 euros.

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, claiming a presidential immunity from questioning that was later backed up by a high appeals court. His office said the money -- the equivalent of some 300,000 euros -- came from bonuses that he earned as prime minister in the 1980s.

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

The country's slow justice system has meant that the cases are only now coming to court.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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