French judge targets Chirac over party jobs scam

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2009 8:22 AM

A judge filed preliminary charges against former President Jacques Chirac on Friday over allegations that Paris City Hall paid for jobs in his political party when was mayor, part of a financing scandal that has long dogged the man who for decades dominated French politics.

The case, which in 2004 led to the conviction of former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, is just the latest legal headache for Chirac. On Oct. 30, a judge ordered the former president to stand trial for embezzlement and breach of trust in an alleged corruption case also linked to his term as Paris mayor.

An investigating judge questioned Chirac on Friday about seven jobs at his former conservative party that were improperly paid for by City Hall or by construction companies while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, the year he became president. The jobs in question date from September 1990 to May 1995.

Aside from running Paris City Hall, Chirac also served simultaneously as a lawmaker, head of his political party, then called the Rally for the Republic, and as prime minister from 1986-88.

Chirac, 77, was placed under investigation _ meaning that the investigating judge has ruled there is strong evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It also gives investigators more time to decide whether to send a suspect to trial or drop the case.

Were Chirac to go to trial on this latest issue, he would face up to five years in prison and risk a fine of up to euro75,000 ($107,000) if convicted.

Chirac's office announced the development, noting that he had been questioned as a material witness in the investigation in 2007 and "there has been no new elements since then."

Chirac, who founded the Rally for the Republic party, or RPR, reborn as UMP _ President Nicolas Sarkozy's party _ has for years been dogged by a series of corruption cases linked to party financing with allegations he set up a system to feed millions of euros (dollars) of funds to his party.

Chirac "reaffirms that no 'system' ever existed at Paris City Hall," said the statement from his office. "He is determined to make this known."

In July 2007, just two months after leaving office, Chirac was questioned in the investigation. An investigating judge had turned up a 1993 letter in which Chirac requested a raise for a secretary who was paid by City Hall _ but who actually worked at party headquarters.

Chirac wrote a column at the time in the daily Le Monde newspaper noting that France long had no judicial rules laying out a framework for party financing. He noted that France passed several laws from 1988 to 1995 as it tried to clarify the rules. "In a few years, we had to pass from a system of customs and arrangements to a regime clearly laid out by the law," he wrote.

Chirac already risks up to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to euro150,000 in the earlier case in which he is being sent to trial _ though observers say a prison sentence would be highly unlikely. It will mark the first time a former leader of modern France is forced to stand trial. No date has been set.

The statement from his office Friday said Chirac hoped the judicial process in both cases would move quickly "so that it will be shown definitively that he can be faulted for nothing."

While Chirac was president from 1995 to 2007, investigating judges went after him unsuccessfully in corruption scandals. He used his presidential immunity to keep them at arm's length. After he left office, the dockets were reopened.

Friday's move revives a case that had already embarrassed Chirac and netted a conviction in 2003 against one of his top proteges, Juppe, who was convicted for his role in the scheme while serving as finance director at City Hall under Chirac.

Juppe received a 14-month suspended sentence and a yearlong ban from politics.