CORRUPTION: Chirac's Immunity Is Over, But...
By Julio Godoy
PARIS, Jun 21 (IPS) - For the last six years, the date Jun. 16, 2007 was the most awaited day by many in France. It was the day that ended immunity for former president Jacques Chirac from pending corruption cases over his 12-year mandate as head of state.
In March 2001, then prosecutor Eric Halphen had summoned Chirac to a hearing on a series of corruption scandals discovered in the city administration of Paris, that he said had taken place during the years Chirac was mayor.
Chirac refused to attend the hearing, arguing that it would be incompatible with his duties as President. This position was later confirmed by the court of appeal and by the French state council, which supervises all matters related to the constitution.
Now, Chirac's immunity is legally over. Opinion polls suggest that most people would like him to face justice, but few believe he will.
Chirac, 75, could face prosecution in several corruption cases. Four of these relate to his period as mayor between 1977 and 1995.
The allegations in three of these cases are that Chirac misused city money to finance his now dissolved party, the Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR). A fourth case relates to inflated food bills paid by the municipality.
One case alleges non-payment of bills on travel to Japan. Yet another alleges Chirac maintained a secret account in Japan into which public money was paid.
Chirac has also been accused of concealing information on the death of French judge Bernard Borrel, in uncertain circumstances in 1996 in Djibouti, where France maintains a large military unit. This was first dismissed as a case of suicide, but then reopened as a case of murder.
There has been enough evidence in the prosecution arguments to bring some convictions.
French justice has already sanctioned former RPR leader and former prime minister Alain Juppé, the closest aide to Chirac during his years as head of the Paris administration. Juppé was given a suspended sentence in 2005 of 14 months in prison. He was also sentenced to facing several restrictions for a year.
The prosecution cites several kinds of evidence. One is a letter dated Mar. 16, 1993 signed by Chirac in which he demands promotion for an administrative aide "for her exemplary commitment...in (fulfilment of) her delicate functions." The aide actually worked at the RPR.
On Apr. 15, 1999, then prosecutor Patric Desmure claimed he has "evidence, in the sense expressed by the article 105 of the French penal code, against (Chirac), that he has participated in traffic of influence and abuse of public goods."
Other prosecutors have made claims against Chirac in other corruption affairs.
Former anti-corruption prosecutor Eva Joly has said that "if the French judicial institutions work normally, Chirac shall be questioned in affairs... including the misuse of public funds in Paris, and also his alleged secret bank account in Japan."
Joly, a Norwegian citizen who worked 10 years as prosecutor in France, and who conducted path-breaking inquiries into corruption cases associated with the former state-owned oil company Elf Aquitaine, has said that "it would be indecent for France if the corruption cases involving Chirac were handled as in Italy against Silvio Berlusconi, or in Chile against Augusto Pinochet."
According to a poll on the weekend when Chirac's immunity ended, 80 percent of those surveyed wanted an inquiry into Chirac's involvement in the corruption cases. But the question is whether prosecutors now would summon Chirac for a hearing. (END/2007)
Chirac to be questioned in fake jobs case
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Jacques Chirac is due as an "assisted witness" to answer queries in the fake jobs scandal, his lawyer said. Chirac's RPR party members allegedly received their salaries from Paris City Hall while he was Mayor.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Chirac to be questioned in party funding probe - lawyer
PARIS, June 26, 2007 (AFP) - Former French president Jacques Chirac will be questioned in the coming weeks by judges looking into an illegal party funding scam dating from his time as mayor of Paris, his lawyer confirmed Tuesday.
According to Jean Veil, Chirac will be interviewed as an "assisted witness" -- rather than as an ordinary witness -- which means that the possibility of criminal charges against him remains open.
"For the period up to 1995 when he was elected president he is a citizen like any other, and he will answer all questions in all the cases that may concern him," Veil told Europe 1 radio.
Veil did not give a date for the summons but said it would be before September 15.
The so-called "fake jobs" investigation is into allegations that members of Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) party had their salaries paid by Paris City Hall or by private companies that won contracts there.
Chirac's close ally Alain Juppe was convicted in the affair in 2004, earning a one-year ban from politics.
The former president -- who was Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995 -- faces possible questioning in three other cases relating to his time there.
However Chirac has said he will refuse to answer summonses from judges looking into the so-called Clearstream affair, which took place when he was president.
The Clearstream investigation is into concocted allegations that senior politicians and business figures -- including Chirac's successor Nicolas Sarkozy -- received illegal commissions out of a major arms sale to Taiwan.
Judges in charge of the affair have indicated they want to interview Chirac over claims he ordered a secret intelligence probe in 2004 to see if the allegations against Sarkozy were true.
But Chirac issued a statement on Friday saying that as the events took place while he was in office, he remained protected by presidential immunity.
For the same reason Chirac will refuse to answer questions over the mysterious death of a French judge in Djibouti in 1995, Veil said.
Bernard Borrel's widow Elisabeth believes he was murdered by Djibouti agents and has accused Chirac of helping the President Ismael Omar Guelleh cover up the affair.
France judges to question Chirac in corruption probe
Michael Sung at 1:05 PM ET
Chirac allegedly ordered a secret investigation into current President Nicolas Sarkozy [BBC profile] in the Clearstream Affair [Wikipedia backgrounder] as part of a smear campaign [JURIST report] against Sarkozy prior to the presidential elections. Chirac has also refused to allow magistrates to search his office [BBC report] or question him pursuant to an investigation of the mysterious death of French judge Bernard Borrel [advocacy website, in French] in Djibouti. Chirac's lawyer said that because the French constitution grants judicial immunity to the president, Chirac will refuse to answer questions about events that occurred during his presidency. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.
France 'covered up' judge murder
FRESH and damning new evidence suggests that France covered up the murder of one of its own judges in the tiny African state of Djibouti in 1995.
The so-called "Affaire Borrel" threatens to explode into a far-ranging political and diplomatic scandal.
Judge Bernard Borrel (39) was officially in the former French colony on the Red Sea to help to reform the penal code. It now emerges that he was also investigating alleged drugs and arms smuggling by the man who was to become Djibouti's president, Ismael Omar Guelleh.
Judge Borrel's partially burned body was found in a ravine in October, 1995. The local authorities, supported by Paris, declared that he had committed suicide.
Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to ensure relevant classified information was released. Within hours the French public prosecutor confirmed that the medical evidence proved that Judge Borrel was murdered.
©Independent News Service
Jacques Chirac and pals.
The 'arms smuggler', the murdered judge, and a scandal threatening to engulf Chirac
By John Lichfield in Paris
Published: 13 July 2007
Recently released classified documents suggest that France covered up the murder of one of its own judges in the tiny African state of Djibouti in 1995.
The so-called "Affaire Borrel" threatens to explode into a far-ranging political and diplomatic scandal, engulfing, among others, the former president, Jacques Chirac.
Judge Bernard Borrel, 39, was officially in the former French colony on the Red Sea - site of France's largest military base in Africa - to help to reform the penal code. It has since emerged that he was also investigating alleged drugs and arms smuggling by the man who was to become Djibouti's president, Ismael Omar Guelleh.
Borrel's partially burned body was found at the foot of a ravine in October 1995. The local authorities, supported by Paris, declared that he had committed suicide.
For 12 years his widow, Elisabeth, has fought to prove that her husband was murdered. Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to meet her - the first senior French politician ever to do so. He promised to ensure that all relevant classified information was released.
Within hours the chief public prosecutor in Paris released a statement confirming that the medical evidence proved that Borrel was murdered.
This week, two senior former French intelligence officers who were present in Djibouti at the time told a judge that Borrel was investigating the smuggling of drugs and arms through the strategically placed statelet at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
This "traffic" allegedly involved French citizens and Mr Guelleh - known as "IOG" - the nephew of the then president and the heir apparent to the role. Mr Guelleh was elected head of state four years later.
One unnamed intelligence officer - a former deputy head of the French equivalent of MI6 - told the investigating magistrate, Sophie Clément, that the judge's death was always known by French authorities to have been a murder.
In his confidential testimony this week, which was leaked to the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, he said: "The (Djibouti) justice minister had asked M. Borrel to put together a dossier on all the trafficking involving Ismael Omar Guelleh. It was a way of building a case to keep IOG from power.
"The idea that [Borrel's death] was suicide was ridiculous to anyone who knew the region. There were all kinds of threats... a clan war was going on."
Mme Borrel and her lawyers have maintained for years that France tried to hush up the affair because it did not want to jeopardise its strategic interests in Djibouti. The statelet, with a population of 790,000, borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and faces Aden across the mouth of the Red Sea. The large French military base there has been partially loaned to the United States since 2001 to help American operations in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
In recent days it has also emerged that the French military in Djibouti knew about Borrel's death two hours before his body was found by local police. Radio France Internationale has been accused of bowing to pressure from Djibouti and the French government to remove an investigative journalist from the Borrel story in 2005.
The affair has many other ramifications. Djibouti brought a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague in January 2006 to try to force France to hand over its legal dossier on Borrel's death. According to a document recently discovered by investigators at the foreign ministry in Paris, M. Chirac urged Djibouti to bring the case against France.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, two other investigating judges raided the home of Michel de Bonnecorse, a former senior African adviser to M. Chirac. The former president has let it be known that he will refuse to answer any questions about the "Affaire Borrel". He claims permanent legal immunity for all his actions while in the Elysée palace.
In an interview with Le Monde last weekend, the Djibouti President denied all knowledge of the affair. "The Republic of Djibouti was not involved, either closely or from afar, in the death of Bernard Borrel," he said.