French court to rule in Chirac corruption trial
French judges are to rule Thursday in the unprecedented corruption case against aged ex-leader Jacques Chirac, the first time a former French president has faced charges in court.
The 79-year-old, president from 1995 to 2007, is facing conflict of interest, abuse of power and embezzlement charges and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($197,000).
Chirac is unlikely to face prison time however, as Paris prosecutors have urged the court to acquit him and nine other accused in the trial. Analysts say a suspended sentence is most likely even if he is found guilty.
Chirac is accused on two counts of hiring members of his political party for non-existent municipal jobs in Paris, where he was mayor from 1977 to 1995, effectively using the civic payroll to employ his own campaign staff.
He was excused from attending the trial after doctors said he was afflicted with "severe" neurological problems.
One of Chirac's lawyers, Georges Kiejman, said he is "calmly awaiting" the court's decision. In a statement read at the trial, Chirac said he "did not commit any legal or moral offence".
The charges relate to 28 allegedly fictitious municipal jobs created in Paris and the suburb of Nanterre between 1990 and 1995, ahead of Chirac's successful 1995 presidential bid.
The charge sheet alleged that Chirac was the "inventor, author and beneficiary" of a conspiracy to use public funds to "support his political influence" and serve his own "interests and ambitions, or those of his party".
Several people were convicted in connection with the case in 2004, including former prime minister and current Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who was found guilty of mishandling public funds.
Juppe was given a 14-month suspended sentence and barred from public office for a year. Juppe did not answer the court's request to appear in Chirac's trial.
The city of Paris was not a civil partner in the case after it agreed last year to accept a payment of more than 2.2 million euros in exchange for dropping out.
Defence lawyers denied in court that there was an organised "system" of ghost jobs during Chirac's time at city hall and said the ex-mayor was not in a position to know if any of the jobs had been fake.
"You have an immense moral and political responsibility," Kiejman had told the court, urging an acquittal. "Your ruling will determine the final image given to Jacques Chirac."
© 2011 AFP