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
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk