Six questions for Chirac
Following the July 14 military parade, France's president Jacques Chirac was to take part in a traditional Bastille Day televised interview with journalists. It was to be the most crucial interview of his 40-year political career, when he was expected to answer six vital questions, which we present here.
This was to have been his first public comment on revelations that between 1992 and 1995 he spent up to FF 2.4 million (EUR 340,000) in cash on holidays abroad for himself, family and friends, now the subject of a judicial investigation which led to his daughter, Claude, being questioned earlier in the week.
The tense stand-off between Chirac and the three magistrates investigating the affair – the president has said he will refuse any attempt to be questioned – has this week built into a unprecedented political crisis.
Unlike previous allegations covering the illegal funding of his RPR party, the new scandal raises for the first time the charge that Chirac used tainted money for his personal enrichment. Less than a year before presidential elections, it is a grave embarrassment.
Chirac's aides say he will use the opportunity to launch a pugnacious counter-offensive but here are the questions that the French president must convincingly answer in the hope of defusing the crisis :
1) Why did Chirac, when mayor of Paris, choose to pay for around 20 foreign air-trips, including flights to New York, Mauritius and Japan, using envelopes stuffed with 500 franc notes?
2) Where did the money come from?
3) Chirac's office originally said the cash was part of the so-called "special funds" which are allotted to French governments for spending at their discretion. But is it credible that Chirac would still have that much cash at his disposal four years after leaving prime ministerial office in 1988?
4) Even if the "special funds" are accepted as an explanation, is the purchase of private foreign holidays a proper way of using money intended for furthering the ends of state?
5) And why was the money not declared to the tax authorities?
6) Is not a far more likely explanation that the money came from cash back-handers known to have been paid by building-companies to Chirac's RPR in return for contracts for renovating Paris schools during the years in question?
Chirac was reported to have formulated several lines of counter-attack, questioning the motivation of the judges leading the enquiry and the legality of the procedure, and picking out inconsistencies in their findings.
He may yet be aided by the nature of Saturday's interview, which – to judge by precedents in France – will be unconfrontational in manner.