Former Socialist minister admits role in scandal of Chirac videotape

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The Independent Online

The French Socialists and Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, were deeply embarrassed yesterday by the affair of party-funding frauds and the videotape from beyond the grave.

The French Socialists and Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, were deeply embarrassed yesterday by the affair of party-funding frauds and the videotape from beyond the grave.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former Socialist finance minister and close associate of Mr Jospin, admitted he held the original copy of a devastating tape that directly implicates President Jacques Chirac in political financing swindles in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said he had been given the video by a friend two years ago. He said he had never played the tape, which was recorded by Jean-Claude Méry, a now deceased fund-raiser for Mr Chirac's party, the RPR.

The fact that a senior Socialist held the tape will never-theless lend credence to claims by Mr Chirac's supporters that the publication of a transcript by Le Monde last week was a dirty trick by the French left. Both Le Monde and the freelance television producer who filmed the tape at Méry's request say the decision to go public was taken by them alone.

President Chirac ordered Mr Jospin to hold an investigation into Mr Strauss-Kahn's role in the affair. Mr Jospin obeyed but let it be known that he had never heard of the tape before Le Monde printed the transcript.

Mr Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign as finance minister last year to fight two allegations that he was involved in financial improprieties. Before the claims of false accounting at his legal business put the brakes on his political career, Mr Strauss-Kahn had been tipped as the possible Socialist candidate for Paris mayor in the 2001 elections.

Méry's claim of rampant RPR wrongdoing could have provided fearsome political ammunition in the Paris race.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's possession of the "Chirac tape" was revealed on the internet site of the magazine L'Express. The magazine said it had been traded to the finance minister by a friend, a tax lawyer, in return for dropping part of a vast tax claim against a client, the fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. Judicial sources yesterday denied this part of the L'Express story.

The hour-long tape, made by Méry in 1996, describes an elaborate system of kick-backs on public contracts for the Paris town hall while Mr Chirac was mayor of the capital from 1977 to 1995.

The former RPR official, who on the tape says he made it for his own protection, alleged that the system operated "directly on Chirac's orders".

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