Saturday, July 21, 2007

France: Chirac finally faces corruption allegations

Chirac finally faces corruption allegations

· Ex-president questioned as immunity comes to end
· Party officials said to have been on Paris city payroll

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday July 20, 2007
The Guardian

The former French president Jacques Chirac was yesterday questioned by a judge over a party financing scandal dating back to his time as Paris mayor, the first time in modern France a former president has been quizzed in a corruption investigation.
Two months after he stepped down and his presidential immunity ended, Mr Chirac finally faced investigators who have been waiting for 12 years to question him over allegations that money was siphoned off the Paris city hall budget to pay workers for his own political party. It is the most serious of a string of potential legal problems facing the 74-year-old ex-president.
Mr Chirac has been haunted by sleaze allegations throughout his presidency - ranging from party funding to free air flights for his wife - but he has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the cases and could not be questioned due to his immunity as head of state.
An investigating judge arrived at Mr Chirac's new offices in Paris yesterday morning for more than four hours of questioning over the issue of improper party financing. The former president was questioned as a material witness. This means he was not formally under investigation but could later face charges if judges find signs of a criminal offence.
Mr Chirac also took the unusual step yesterday of publishing a column in Le Monde newspaper "clarifying" his position for the French people and explaining the ins and outs of party funding. He wrote that he would tell investigators that party financing had been in a legal no man's land for much of the period in which he was running Paris and all parties had been affected by this. "The politicians in charge at the time acted with integrity and with the general interest at heart," he said.
Dubbed the "fake jobs" affair, the scandal dates back to Mr Chirac's time as mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995. During that period he was also leader of the Rally for the Republic party (RPR). Investigators believe workers for Mr Chirac's RPR party were put on the Paris city payroll for fake jobs, in an illegal scheme to help finance the party with taxpayers' money. They say the equivalent of millions of euros in salaries and fees were paid out to the party under the guise of fictitious jobs.
The inquiry has already claimed the scalp of one of Mr Chirac's closest allies. In 2004, Alan Juppé, the former prime minister and Chirac protege was convicted and given a 14-month suspended sentence and a year-long ban from politics.
The investigating judge, Alain Philibeaux, yesterday questioned Mr Chirac to establish how much he knew of the affair and determine any involvement. The judge's investigation has turned up a letter written in 1993 in which Mr Chirac requested a pay rise for a secretary who was paid by Paris city hall - but who actually worked at party headquarters.
Mr Chirac's lawyers described the interview session as "calm and courteous".
It remains unclear whether the former president will ever be tried in this or other legal cases, but they have already provided an unhappy postscript to his 40-year political career.
Further questions
Bogus advisers: A judge is investigating allegations that paid adviser posts were created while Mr Chirac was mayor, but no work was done.
Euralair: An inquiry into whether Bernadette Chirac - and possibly Mr Chirac himself - received free flights worth over €40,000.
Sempap: An investigation launched in 1997 into the alleged misuse of funds at Paris city's printers.
Mr Chirac has refused to be questioned over an alleged 2004 smear campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy, and allegations of a French state cover-up over the murder of a French judge in Djibouti in 1995.

No comments: