Juppe’s jail sentence reduced on appeal

1st December 2004, Comments 0 comments

VERSAILLES, France, Dec 1 (AFP) - A French appeals court on Wednesday confirmed former prime minister Alain Juppe's conviction for illegal party funding, but sharply cut his period of disqualification from public office - opening the way for a possible return to politics next year.

VERSAILLES, France, Dec 1 (AFP) - A French appeals court on Wednesday confirmed former prime minister Alain Juppe's conviction for illegal party funding, but sharply cut his period of disqualification from public office - opening the way for a possible return to politics next year.

The court in Versailles gave Juppe, 59, a 14-month suspended jail term along with a one-year ban on holding elected office. At his original trial in January he had been given an 18-month suspended jail term and a disqualification of 10 years.

Juppe, who was in court with his wife, received the verdict with an impassive expression and was driven away without speaking to reporters. His lawyer said he was satisfied with the ruling and did not intend to take the case to the high court of appeal.

The sentence meant that Juppe - a long-standing ally of President Jacques Chirac who was till recently tipped as his successor - could in theory resume his political career in plenty of time for the next presidential election in 2007.

However it was far from clear if that is his ambition.

Juppe was found guilty of "taking illegal benefits" in the biggest case yet to come to court centring on allegations of financial irregularities during Chirac's 18-year mandate to 1995 as mayor of Paris.

As head of Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) as well as financial director of Paris city hall, Juppe was found to have arranged for the payment of seven RPR staffers with municipal funds.

At his appeal Juppe continued to deny that he knew of the scam, but conceded he might have "erred by negligence."

In its verdict the court said it was regrettable that Juppe, "whose intellectual qualities are universally recognised, did not see fit to assume his guilt before the court ...

"Nonetheless M. Juppe, who has devoted many years to the service of the state, drew no personal enrichment from the crimes committed on behalf of all members of his party, and should therefore not be made their scapegoat," it said.

Following his conviction in January, Juppe resigned his post as president of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) - the RPR's successor - as well as his seat in the National Assembly. He was expected to step down from his post as mayor of Bordeaux, in the southwest, now that his ban on office has been confirmed.

Supporters in the UMP reacted jubilantly to the reduced sentence and expressed the hope that Juppe would make a quick return to politics.

"It is great news for him, for France, for the UMP - because of course he will be coming back to French political life," said junior foreign minister Xavier Darcos.

However with his place at the head of the UMP taken over by the ambitious former finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy - who was inaugurated Sunday in a lavish party congress - Juppe's chances of re-establishing himself as a candidate have been sharply reduced.

It was in any case uncertain how he saw his future. After his original conviction he told Sud-Ouest newspaper: "Whatever the appeal court's decision, nothing will be like it was before."

Juppe, who Chirac once described as the "best among us," served as prime minister from 1995 but his attempts at social reform led to strikes, and he lost office to the socialist Lionel Jospin following elections in 1997.

He was then instrumental in the formation of the UMP and the centre-right's successful fight-back in 2002.

He is the most senior person to be convicted in the several party funding scandals that are linked to Chirac's tenure of Paris city hall. Chirac himself has been named in successive investigations, but enjoys judicial immunity because of his office.

During the January trial Juppe said he only became aware of the illicit salaries in 1993 and then tried to put a stop to it, but one of his former colleagues told the court that "everyone knew" about the system.

Five other former officials at the RPR also had their sentences reduced at the appeal.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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