Former French President Jacques Chirac’s corruption trial over decades-old claims he misused Paris funds resumes today after a six-month hiatus to consider a codefendant’s bid to block the case.
Chirac, who was elected mayor in 1977 and held the post until 1995 except for a two-year period when he served as prime minister, is accused of misusing Paris city funds to reward party loyalists with no-show job contracts. The trial began in March and was suspended on its second day over a constitutional challenge that was later rejected by an appeals court.
The age of the charges and a summer of slumping economies and scandals -- such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault arrest -- since the trial’s sudden suspension have distracted the French public, pollster Jerome Fourquet said, making them forget they had previously dubbed Chirac “Super Liar.”
“In opinion polls, he’s very popular, the most popular political figure in France,” said Fourquet, deputy director at Paris-based pollster Ifop. “The moment has passed, the French have turned the page.”
If convicted, Chirac faces as long as 10 years in prison for a charge of embezzlement and as much as a 375,000-euro ($533,500) 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.
The 78-year-old is the first former French leader since World War II to stand trial. He’s accused of misusing city money to benefit his Rally for the Republic Party. Investigations in Paris and neighboring Nanterre found 28 questionable job contracts dating from his time as mayor.
Chirac’s defense will argue that all contracts were for real city jobs, his lawyer Jean Veil said in a Sept. 1 telephone interview. Chirac won’t attend the opening of the trial and no decision has been made on whether he will participate at other hearings, Veil said.
If he doesn’t attend any of the hearings, “that would be a bit more problematic,” said Fourquet. “It would leave the impression that we have two types of justice and that he’s not a defendant like any other.”
Paris and Nanterre prosecutors opposed a trial and the City of Paris dropped its claim after reaching a settlement. In that deal the former president and the Union for a Popular Movement, successor to Chirac’s party, paid 2.2 million euros to the city. Neither admitted guilt and Chirac denies violating any laws.
The investigations were delayed by rules that shield sitting French heads of state from investigations for anything short of high treason.
Current French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet voted Aug. 31 to allow Foreign Minister Alain Juppe to testify at the trial. Juppe, a former prime minister who served as deputy mayor to Chirac, was found guilty in 2005 in a related trial over the jobs scandal. He received a one-year ban on holding public office and a 14-month suspended sentence. He returned to politics in 2006 and was elected mayor of Bordeaux, and joined Sarkozy’s cabinet in February.