Chirac absent for health reasons as trial opens

Chirac is accused of paying members of his party for non-existent municipal jobs in Paris.

Paris: Jacques Chirac`s embezzlement
trial opened on Monday with the 78-year-old former French
president absent after a medical report said he suffered from
memory loss and was too unwell to attend.

"Absent," came the reply when the presiding judge
called out his name at the start of a trial that should have
seen the first French former head of state in the dock since
World War II.

Judge Dominique Pauthe was expected to begin
proceedings by responding to the medical report. His options
include postponing the case, seeking further medical opinion,
or continuing hearings with Chirac represented by lawyers.

Chirac, best known internationally for his opposition
to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, has been linked to a
series of corruption scandals but was never convicted.

The right-winger stands accused of illegal party
funding ahead of his successful 1995 presidency bid.

If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a
fine of 150,000 euros (USD 210,000) on charges that include
embezzlement and breach of trust during the years he served as
mayor of Paris.

Chirac is the first French former head of state to
face criminal charges since the leader of the collaborationist
wartime regime, Marshal Philippe Petain, was convicted of
treason after World War II.

He enjoyed immunity from prosecution as president from
1995 to 2007, but the case, which has already seen current
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe convicted, has finally caught up
with him.

He is accused on two counts of paying members of his
political party for non-existent municipal jobs in Paris,
where he was mayor from 1977 to 1995.

Bureau Report

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