French ex-minister pleads innocent of corruption

19th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, a high-profile former ally of ex-president Jacques Chirac, protested his innocence Monday at his trial on charges of corruption in the 1990s.

Pasqua, 83, a wartime resistance fighter who became an influential post-war figure on the right, faces three charges linked to alleged kickbacks and bribes during his second term as interior minister from 1993 to 1995.

"I am innocent of the deeds I am accused of and I hope that the arguments will bring this out," he told the court.

Pasqua is accused of receiving payments in return for awarding a licence to run a casino to a friend in 1994 and of having links to bribes accepted by his colleagues in two other business deals.

"An interior minister's days are tough and there is not always much time to spend examining the details. That is not one's role," he added Monday.

He has already received a suspended 18-month prison sentence in the casino case after a court convicted him of funding his election campaign for the European Parliament with the proceeds of the sale of the casino.

The conviction was confirmed on appeal this month.

In October, Pasqua was also sentenced to a year in jail for his role in illegal arms sales to Angola in the 1990s. He has appealed the conviction.

His son Pierre and several businessmen and senior officials have also been convicted in the three cases by lower courts.

Charles Pasqua is now up before a special court to try ministers, in a case expected to last two weeks.

His lawyers at Monday's hearing challenged the constitutional grounds of his trial and argued that he could not be tried twice over the casino case, but the court dismissed these claims.

High-profile witnesses due to appear later in the trial include Claude Gueant, who is President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest advisor and was a senior member of Pasqua's office when he was minister.

Judges are due to rule on the case on April 30. Pasqua faces up to 10 years in jail but is partially protected, as a sitting senator, by parliamentary immunity and will be able to appeal to a higher court.

Pasqua fought in the World War II resistance and went on to help General Charles de Gaulle found the first of a series of political parties which were the ancestors of today's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

In 1976, he helped Chirac set up the Rally for the Republic (RPR).

Pasqua emerged as a tough law-and-order conservative during his first term as interior minister from 1986-88, which coincided with claims of police brutality.

© 2010 AFP

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