Chirac may avoid trial into fraud allegations

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The Independent Online

A 10-year investigation into alleged embezzlement of public funds by the former French president Jacques Chirac may end in a damp squib.

In a decision that will provoke allegations of political interference by his successor Nicolas Sarkozy, the Paris public prosecutor's office has decided that Mr Chirac has "no case to answer" in accusations that he ran his political party with officials illegally placed on the Paris town hall payroll from 1983 to 1995.

The decision to drop the case must still be approved by a judge. It is, in any case, just one of several allegations of misuse of public funds brought against Mr Chirac, 76. But the recommendation that he should not go on trial, despite considerable documentary evidence suggesting his guilt, is bound to draw attention to Mr Chirac's relationship with President Sarkozy.

Although they had fallen out spectacularly, relations between the two have improved. The public prosecutor is nominally independent but under the hierarchical control of the justice ministry.

The recommendation to spare Mr Chirac a trial will inevitably be compared with Mr Sarkozy's public delight at the prosecution of his rival, the former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, for allegedly trying to smear him. Mr Villepin will appear on the witness stand in the trial of the so-called Clearstream affair today.

Mr Chirac has been under investigation since 1999 for allegedly abusing his position as mayor of Paris. But the public prosecutor's office has decided that the statute of limitations has expired on alleged offences committed before 1992, while other evidence "did not show a manifest intention to break the rules".

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