Expelled mayor threatens revenge on Chirac

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The Independent Online

Treachery! cowardice! Methods worthy of Communists! Little Pinochets!

Treachery! cowardice! Methods worthy of Communists! Little Pinochets!

Despite an unofficial truce between President Jacques Chirac and the Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, vicious insults and dire accusations continue to fly in French politics. Embarrassingly - and potentially disastrously for Mr Chirac - the war is no longer between the left and the right but within the ranks of the President's own neo-Gaullist party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR).

The party has expelled one of its most high-profile members, Jean Tiberi, the Mayor of Paris, amid a mayoral election campaign. Mr Tiberi has said that, in retaliation, he may reveal what he knows of the alleged money-raising and vote-rigging activities of his predecessor, Mr Chirac.

A few days ago, the President appeared to have ridden out the latest controversy surrounding his years as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995. In a videotape that surfaced two weeks ago, a former Gaullist fixer and fund-raiser, now deceased, accused Mr Chirac of organising elaborate party-financing frauds.

Although the accusations damaged the President, much of the heat also turned on Mr Jospin, especially because a master copy of the tape had been owned by Mr Jospin's former finance minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Public pressure has, none the less, continued to increase for clarification by Mr Chirac. His standing in the opinion polls has begun to unravel. Now the President faces the threat of further denunciation, by someone who is still alive and kicking.

Mr Tiberi, Mr Chirac's hand-picked successor as Mayor in 1995, was thrown out of the RPR in a stormy meeting on Thursday night. Afterwards, he said that he had been "sickened" by the "hatred" within the party.

The Mayor's supporters screamed at other Gaullist party leaders, both during and outside the meeting. In a press interview the previous day, Mr Tiberi warned that, if the party fulfilled its threat to expel him, he might have "something to say" and that if he did speak out, he would not "mince his words". Yesterday, he said heintended to seek an early meeting with his former friend, Mr Chirac, before deciding his next step.

Mr Tiberi was thrown out of the party for refusing to stand aside when the RPR chose another candidate, the former party president Philippe Séguin, for the Paris mayoral election next spring. Mr Tiberi was dropped as party candidate after he, and his wife, Xaviÿre, were placed under criminal investigation in a series of scandals involving illegal fundraising, vote-rigging and personal enrichment.

The defence of the Tiberis against these allegations has taken two forms: we didn't do anything wrong; and it all started long before us.

Mr and Mrs Tiberi claim that the party is trying to ditch them as a way of cleansing itself of past misdeeds. Their claims of complete innocence are not taken seriously by the French press. However, there is also much evidence on the public record that the systematic gerrymandering of Paris began under Mr Chirac's mayorship in 1989-90.

Legal action against Mr Chirac is blocked by his constitutional immunity as President. One of the magistrates investigating alleged RPR frauds is, however, said to be contemplating asking to interview the President as a witness, which would be hugely embarrassing for Mr Chirac.

In the meantime, the leaders of the non-Gaullist centre-right in France have been rubbing their hands publicly at Mr Chirac's discomfiture.