Ex-French president Chirac lawyers urge acquittal

AP News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 3:25 PM
Ex-French president Chirac lawyers urge acquittal

Jacques Chirac's attorneys pleaded for an acquittal Friday in the alleged corruption trial against the former French president _ the first of an ex-head of state here since World War II _ arguing that judges "cannot sully Jacques Chirac ... without sullying France" itself.

Chirac has repeatedly denied allegations that more than two dozen fake City Hall jobs were used to fund his conservative party during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris mayor _ though he did not take the stand during the trial to proclaim his innocence himself.

Doctors say the 78-year-old former head of state experiences memory lapses, and a judge allowed him to be represented by his lawyers throughout the three-week-long trial.

In closing arguments Friday, attorney Georges Kiejman argued the Paris court's verdict "will represent our last image of Jacques Chirac," who enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 12 years as head of state.

Kiejman voiced indignation that the ex-leader _ who famously rallied against former President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq _ was being treated like a common criminal.

"You cannot sully Jacques Chirac, who incarnated France for 12 years, without sullying France," Kiejman said.

Earlier this week, prosecutors also urged the court to dismiss the case, arguing there was not enough evidence to demonstrate that the jobs were indeed fake.

While a prison term for Chirac is seen as extremely unlikely, on paper, if convicted, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined euro150,000 ($215,000).

The case is among many scandals to haunt Chirac over his years as mayor _ including claims that he and his family improperly consumed some euro2.1 million worth of food from 1987 to 1995 at the city's expense. Those cases were rejected either for lack of evidence or because they had surpassed the statute of limitations.

Chirac is the first of a former French head of state on trial since the World War II era, when Marshal Philippe Petain, the leader of France's Nazi collaborationist regime, was convicted of treason and shipped into exile.

Many critics have decried the trappings of presidential immunity in France.

A verdict in the fake jobs case is expected on Dec. 15.