French judge delays Jacques Chirac trial

The trial of former President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges was suspended for at least three months today – raising doubts about whether the case will ever come to court.



A constitutional objection, raised by the lawyer for one of Mr Chirac’s co-defendants, forced the judge to adjourn the long-awaited trial until at least June.

Although the Chirac defence team denied all responsibility, anti-corruption campaigners insisted that the constitutional complaint was the latest manoeuvre in a lengthy rearguard action by the former president’s entourage to spare him the humiliation of a trial.

Depending on the progress of the disputed point through the appeal court and France’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, the trial could be delayed for at least six months. Mr Chirac’s health, and especially his mental clarity and memory, are already in doubt. Anti-corruption campaigners and the French media speculated yesterday that the ex-president, 78, might never face the 28 charges of misusing taxpayers’ money to fund his political career.

Mr Chirac did not appear in person for either of the two days of procedural and constitutional wrangling this week. Had he done so he would have been the first French former head of state to appear as a defendant in court since Field Marshall Phillipe Petain was convicted of treason in 1945.

The accusations go back to Mr Chirac’s period as mayor of Paris from 1977-95. They have taken so long to reach trial, partly because Mr Chirac claimed presidential immunity while he was in the Elysee Palace from 1995 to 2007.

He is accused, following two separate investigations, of putting 28 people on the town hall pay-roll who had nothing whatever to do with the city of Paris. Some were cronies or political allies. Most allegedly worked, at the Paris taxpayers’ expense, for Mr Chirac ‘s “Gaullist” political party, the Rassemblement pour la Republique.

One of the alleged “fictitious employees” was a full-time official in Mr Chirac’s parliamentary constituency office in Correze, 300 miles from the French capital.

If convicted, the former president nominally faces prison but, in practice, would probably receive a suspended jail sentence and a fine.

The length of time it took for the charges to reach court were, with some irony, the cause of today’s further delay. A lawyer representing one of the nine other defendants – a former senior aide to Mr Chirac in Paris town hall – complained that one set of accusations, including alleged offences from the 1970s and 1980s, should have been barred by the three year “statute of limitations” on such charges guaranteed by the French constitution.

An unfair attempt had been made, the lawyer complained, to keep the charges alive by tagging them on to a separate set of later accusations, involving Mr Chirac alone.

The trial judge, Dominique Pauthe, announced today, after studying the protest overnight, that he was referring the question to the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeal court, If the Cour de Cassation accepts that there is a prima facie cause for complaint, it will ask the Conseil Constitutionnel, the final arbiter of constitutional questions, for a ruling.

The so-called “sages” of the constitutional council include Jacques Chirac. His lawyers promised that he would stay away from all the council's meetings until his own case had been decided.

Jerome Karsenti, lawyer for an anti-corruption pressure group, said that the adjournment amounted to “denial of justice.”.

“It is now obvious that there is one law for the powerful in this country and one for the rest,” he said. “Is it any surprise that Marine Le Pen (the leader of the far right National Front) is at 23 per cent and leading the opinion polls (for next year’s presidential election)?”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn