Chirac escapes judicial inquiry investigation

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The Independent Online
THE PRESIDENT is off the hook - for now. Despite written evidence suggesting that Jacques Chirac knew about the illegal funding of his Gaullist party, a public prosecutor has ruled he cannot be investigated through the normal judicial channels.

But the legal and political reverberations of the scandal of the "300 fictitious employees" at the Paris town hall are far from over.

The Elysee Palace is demanding an investigation into how the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP) came to be given the wrong story on Friday night. AFP reported that the President was to be placed under formal investigation, setting alarm bells ringing all over France.

In fact, the public prosecutor had accepted a controversial ruling by the country's constitutional watchdog that the president of the republic was immune from investigation for any alleged crime, whether committed before or during his term of office. The constitutional council ruled in January that a president could be investigated only by a special court - the Haute Cour de Justice de la Republique.

The case arises from a three-year-old investigation of the financing of Mr Chirac's neo-Gaullist party, the RPR. The investigating judge, Patrick Desmure, has found evidence that Paris taxpayers were unwittingly funding the party in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Scores of RPR officials (up to 300 according to one account) were on the city pay-roll.

Mr Chirac was mayor of Paris and president of the RPR at the time. Until last month, no direct evidence had emerged that he knew of what was happening. Judge Desmure has now found a letter from December 1993, in which Mayor Chirac talks of the "excellent" work of a phantom city official for a senior RPR executive.

The official was employed by Paris town hall to liaise with "agricultural organisations" (hardly a priority for a city government). She worked full-time from RPR headquarters. The date of the letter is significant. It is several months after an "amnesty" was declared on illegal party funding, in return for a promise by politicians of all colours to mend their ways.

Judge Desmure can reject the prosecutor's ruling and proceed with a formal investigation of the President. Alternatively, he can refer the case to the Haute Cour, or drop the investigation entirely.

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