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French ex-Prez Jacques Chirac guilty of graft

Last Updated: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 00:40

Paris: Popular former French president
Jacques Chirac was convicted of graft on Thursday but escaped jail,
receiving a suspended two year sentence for running ghost
workers at Paris city hall.

The 79-year-old statesman, who was excused from court
on medical grounds, was found guilty of influence peddling,
breach of trust and embezzlement between 1990 and 1995, when
he was mayor of the French capital.

In their ruling, judges said Chirac`s behaviour had
cost Paris taxpayers the equivalent of 1.4 million euros (USD
1.8 million).

"Jacques Chirac breached the duty of trust that weighs
on public officials charged with caring for public funds or
property, in contempt of the general interest of Parisians,"
the ruling said.

He is the first president of modern France to be
tried, although Nazi-era collaborationist leader Philippe
Petain was convicted of treason and the country`s last king,
Louis XVI, was sent to the guillotine in 1793.

The verdict marked the end of a long legal drama.
France`s current foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was convicted
in the same case in 2004 but has since returned to public life
and is a key ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Today`s sentence was a surprise. Even state
prosecutors had called for Chirac -- who still polls as one of
France`s most popular figures -- to be cleared, and France has
largely forgiven his long history of corruption.

"I hope this judgement won`t change the profound
affection that the French people still rightly have for
Jacques Chirac," defence counsel Georges Kiejman said, adding
that Chirac would decide later in the day whether to appeal.

Chirac`s 54-year-old Vietnamese-born adopted daughter
Anh Dao Traxel, said the ruling had been "too, too harsh".
"Justice has spoken, it must be respected but it`s
unfortunately a great pain for our family and for Jacques
Chirac," she told reporters.

A spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, Benoit
Hamon, said the verdict was late but "a good sign for French
democracy".

Chirac was president of France between 1995 and 2007
and as such enjoyed legal immunity. He denied all the charges,
but the case is only one of many corruption scandals to have
dogged him in a long public career.

Doctors say he has "severe and irreversible"
neurological problems including memory loss and dementia
linked to his advanced age.

While he still makes occasional public appearances as
a respected centre-right elder statesman, he was unable to
attend the trial.

He was tried alongside nine alleged accomplices. Two
were cleared, but the rest were convicted of helping Chirac
run a system at Paris city hall under which political allies
were paid municipal salaries for fake jobs.

The city of Paris, which is now run by a Socialist
mayor, dropped a case for damages over the case after Chirac
and his UMP party agreed to pay 2.2 million euros to cover the
embezzled funds.

Chirac -- who lives in a luxury Paris flat overlooking
the Seine near the Eiffel Tower paid for by the family of the
late former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri -- repaid
500,000 euros out of his own pocket.

He was convicted of hiring members of his political
party for non-existent municipal jobs, using the civic payroll
to employ his own campaign staff.

PTI

First Published: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 17:18
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