Graft trial opens for 'medically unfit' ex-president Chirac
Jacques Chirac's embezzlement trial opens Monday with his lawyers arguing that the French former president is too unwell to attend but insisting that the case must still go ahead.
The 78-year-old right-winger, best known internationally for his opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, has been linked to a series of corruption scandals but was never convicted.
Chirac, who became France's best loved politician after leaving office in 2007, stands accused of using public funds to pay people working for his party ahead of his successful 1995 presidency bid.
If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros ($214,000) on charges that include embezzlement and breach of trust during the years he served as mayor of Paris.
He enjoyed immunity from prosecution as president from 1995 to 2007, but the case, which has already seen current Foreign Minister Alain Juppe convicted, has finally caught up with him.
He avoided the dock in March when lawyers for a co-defendant won a postponement by arguing certain charges were unconstitutional. But the highest appeals court ruled the challenge over the statute of limitations was invalid.
It appeared that he was again going to avoid a court appearance after his lawyers said Saturday they had submitted a medical report to the presiding judge that said he was medically unfit to attend.
But they also said the ex-president wanted the trial to go ahead so that the French people could see that top politicians were not above the law.
Judge Dominique Pauthe will on Monday have to respond to the medical report. His options include dropping the case, postponing it or seeking further medical opinion.
Paris city hall last year dropped its civil charges against him in return for a payment of more than 2.2 million euros, from him and the right-wing UMP party.
Chirac, who has also served two terms as prime minister and 18 years as mayor of Paris, paid more than half a million euros of this from his own pocket but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.
© 2011 AFP