Chirac convicted of graft, but escapes jail

15th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Popular former French president Jacques Chirac was convicted of graft on Thursday but escaped jail when he was handed a two-year suspended sentence for running ghost workers at Paris city hall.

The 79-year-old statesman, who was excused from court on medical grounds, was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement between 1990 and 1995 when he was mayor of the French capital.

The verdict marked the end of a long legal drama. France's current foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was convicted in the same case in 2004 but has since returned to public life, and is key ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Thursday's tough sentence was a surprise. Even state prosecutors had called for Chirac -- who still polls as one of France's most popular figures -- to be cleared, France has largely forgiven his long history of corruption.

Chirac was president of France between 1995 and 2007 and as such enjoyed legal immunity. He denied all the charges, but the case is only one of many corruption scandals to have dogged him in a long public career.

His doctors now say that he has "severe and irreversible" neurological problems and, while he still makes occasional public appearances, he was unable to attend the trial.

He was tried alongside nine alleged accomplices. Two were cleared, but the rest were convicted of helping Chirac run a system at Paris city hall under which political allies were paid municipal salaries for fake jobs.

© 2011 AFP

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