Deal offers Chirac hope in corruption trial

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French ex-president Jacques Chirac's hopes of escaping conviction for corruption were boosted Wednesday after his political party reached a 2.2 million-euro (2.8 million-dollar) settlement.

The Paris city hall confirmed a press report that it would accept the sum from Chirac and the governing UMP party to which he belongs to cover costs in the case in return for dropping its civil suit against him.

The settlement has yet to be formally approved by the city council.

It boosts Chirac's chances of escaping conviction because state prosecutors, who will continue the case after the city hall pulls out, are widely expected to call for the former president to be acquitted.

Chirac is accused of using the city payroll to pay salaries to aides who were actually working for his right-wing political party during his tenure as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

As president from 1995 to 2007, Chirac was immune from prosecution, but he is now due to go on trial by early next year -- possibly as early as November this year, depending on judicial procedures.

"From the moment we sign this agreement which indemnifies us for the harm suffered, we have no longer any reason to be a civil plaintiff," an official at the mayor's office told AFP on Wednesday.

The city hall insisted there had been no negotiation with the UMP over the sum, which covers the salaries, interest and lawyers' fees, despite a report in the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine that there were "secret negotiations."

Former prime minister Alain Juppe was convicted in 2004 for corruption while he was Chirac's financial director at the city hall.

© 2010 AFP

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