Judge to question Chirac over corruption case

16th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 15, 2007 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac is to be questioned after he leaves office in May by a judge looking into a corruption case dating from his time as mayor of Paris, justice officials said Thursday.

PARIS, March 15, 2007 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac is to be questioned after he leaves office in May by a judge looking into a corruption case dating from his time as mayor of Paris, justice officials said Thursday.

The officials said no date had been set for the interview, but it could happen any time after mid-June when Chirac's presidential immunity expires.

The judge's investigation is into a kickback scheme in which workers for Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) party had salaries paid for by Paris city hall or companies that won contracts there. Chirac, 74, was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

One official told AFP it was "most probable" that the president would be questioned as an "assisted witness" rather than as an ordinary witness. This means that Chirac would have the right to be accompanied by a lawyer as there were suspicions weighing against him.

The Elysee palace said that "since this information is unsourced, there is not call for a reaction."

The prosecutor's office in Nanterre, outside Paris, which has been looking into corruption allegations, issued a statement later Thursday saying that there were no plans for the time being to question Chirac.

"Following reports published today, the Nanterre prosecutor's office would like to clarify that no legal action is currently scheduled concerning a case where the name of the president of the Republic is cited," said the statement.

Chirac's name has been linked to several illegal party-funding scandals during his long tenure as mayor of Paris, but as president he was immune from questioning by magistrates. The immunity ends a month after he steps down on May 16.

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

However in 1999 the magistrate in charge of the case declared himself unable to look into the president's own role -- which he consigned to a separate dossier. This could now be reactivated once he leaves power.

The main piece of evidence is a note in Chirac's handwriting from 1993, in which he apparently asked for a city hall employee to receive a payment for work done for the RPR.

Patrick Desmure, the magistrate who "disactivated" the Chirac file in 1999, explained in his ruling at the time that "the documents in our possession, some of which seem to have been signed or annotated by Monsieur Chirac, give rise to suspicions against him."

Chirac's name was also linked to 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.

The left-wing opposition has recently accused Chirac of trying to block the risks of legal action by appointing allies into key positions.

Last year he appointed Laurent Le Mesle, his former justice adviser, as public prosecutor in Paris, and 10 days ago he named a close supporter, National Assembly speaker Jean-Louis Debre, as head of the Constitutional Council -- the body which interprets the French constitution.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article