Jacques Chirac’s corruption trial began today with his lawyers asking Paris judges to allow the former French president to be absent for the proceedings, saying the 78-year-old is too ill to appear.
He shows “the symptoms of different neurological illnesses,” his lawyer Jean Veil said. The former leader “is no longer in a state to remember details of events 20 years ago.”
Chirac is accused of misusing Paris city funds to reward party loyalists with no-show job contracts during his time as mayor of Paris. He served as mayor of Paris from 1977 until his election as president in 1995, except for a two-year period when he was prime minister.
Chirac’s lawyers gave the panel of judges a report by Olivier Lyon-Caen, head of the neurology unit at La Pitie- Salpetriere hospital in Paris that finds Chirac suffers from a neurological condition making him unable to defend himself. Chirac will appear if asked by the judge, Veil said.
The investigation was delayed by rules shielding sitting heads of state from investigations for anything short of high treason. While Paris and Nanterre prosecutors opposed a trial, investigating judges said one was needed. The City of Paris dropped its claim after reaching a settlement under which the former president and the Union for a Popular Movement, successor to Chirac’s party, paid 2.2 million euros ($3.1 million) to the city. Neither admitted guilt and Chirac denies violating any laws, claiming all contracts were for real city jobs.
If convicted, Chirac faces as long as 10 years in prison for a charge of embezzlement and as much as a 375,000-euro fine on one of abuse of trust. He would also be ineligible for future political posts. Prior, similar cases indicate he is unlikely to receive any jail time.
Chirac submitted a letter asking for the court to waive his appearance, saying the trial should continue because it is “useful for democracy” to see that courts can judge former heads of state.
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