Friday, October 30, 2009



October 30, 2009

An investigating magistrate on Friday ordered the former French president, Jacques Chirac, to stand trial on corruption charges dating to his time as mayor of Paris, reinforcing the whiff of alleged malfeasance swirling around the political elite here.

Former French President Jacques Chirac attended the funeral of President Omar Bongo of Gabon in June.

If he comes to trial, Mr. Chirac will be the first former French head of state to be prosecuted for corruption, news reports said, offering a humiliating book-end to a career as a towering presence in French politics for 30 years.

The order by the magistrate, Xavière Siméoni, may still be challenged by public prosecutors who have already requested that the charges against the conservative Mr. Chirac, 76, be abandoned. If the prosecutors appeal Friday’s order, it could take months for judges to determine whether he should face trial.

The development came at a time when one of Mr. Chirac’s most prominent aides, former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, is in court defending himself against separate charges of planning a smear campaign in 2003 and 2004 against Nicolas Sarkozy, a political rival who is the current president.

The charges against Mr. Chirac and nine other people relate to his years as mayor of Paris, and involve accusations of awarding contracts for fictitious positions as city advisers in return for political favors.

Mr. Chirac was the Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995, when he was elected president and remained in office until 2007. His position as president gave him constitutional immunity from prosecution, which fell away when he left office. Preliminary embezzlement charges were filed soon after he stepped down.

While he was still in office, several of his aides faced trial on corruption charges, including the former prime minister Alain Juppé, convicted of financing irregularities in 2004.

In a statement, Mr. Chirac’s office said the charges related to 21 contracts, but that he was “confident and determined to establish before a tribunal that none of the jobs that remained under discussion were non-existent jobs.”

Those charged with him include accused recipients of unlawful largess, including a former minister, Michel Roussin; the former labor leader, Marc Blondel; and Jean de Gaulle, the grandson of former president Charles de Gaulle.

Friday’s ruling drew an ambiguous response from some French politicians, including adversaries of Mr. Chirac like Ségolène Royal, a former Socialist presidential contender, according to Reuters. “These are old stories and, today, Jacques Chirac probably has lots of things on his conscience, but at the same time he has given a lot to the country,” she told Europe 1 radio. “He deserves to be left alone, but justice must be the same for everyone.”

“Even if he deserves this, it’s not good for France’s image,” she said.

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