History made as Chirac is told to stand trial

Former head of state accused of embezzling taxpayers' money to put political allies in non-existent posts

Jacques Chirac, the former French president, was ordered to stand trial for alleged corruption while he was mayor of Paris. He is accused of embezzling taxpayers' money to pay more than 20 political cronies for posts that turned out to be non-existent. Mr Chirac now becomes the first former head of state in French history to be put on trial.

In an unprecedented move, an investigating magistrate ruled he should answer charges in court of using the city payroll to fund "ghost workers" who were, in reality working to promote his right-wing political party or in some cases doing nothing at all.

Mr Chirac, who has been under investigation for the past decade for allegedly abusing his position as mayor, enjoyed immunity from prosecution from 1995 to 2007 in his role as head of state. The left-wing daily newspaper Libération accused Mr Chirac, who was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, of distributing fictitious jobs "like baguettes at the bakery".

A spokesperson for Mr Chirac said yesterday that he was "calm" and "determined to prove" his innocence. Investigating magistrate Judge Xavière Simeoni threw out charges of forgery of government documents but Mr Chirac, along with nine former aides, still faces charges relating to the alleged fake jobs.

Investigators looked at 481 supposedly sham contracts and the judge laid charges relating to 21 of them.

The scandal will further undermine French trust in politicians, coming just weeks after the Clearstream trial which tarnished France's political elite by pitting Dominique de Villepin, the former prime minister, against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Dominique Paille, spokesman for the Union for a Popular Movement, the ruling centre-right party created by Mr Chirac, said: "Jacques Chirac is a personality whom the French love very much. It's a shame that, at the end of his personal career, he be put on trial." Mr Paille told Radio France Info: "It is doubtless a painful test for a president, and not necessarily very good for France's image."

While Mr Chirac, now 76, has been accused of a series of corruption allegations during his career, this is the first time legal action has been taken against him, and his popularity has risen since he left office in 2007. This month he was named France's most popular politician, with a 76 per cent approval rating, according to an Ifop poll for Paris-Match magazine.

This compares with 44 per cent for President Sarkozy, suggesting that many French voters look nostalgically on his traditional approach to public life.

Since leaving office he has devoted his time to launching a charitable foundation and writing his memoirs, the first volume of which will be published next month.

The inquiry intohis running of the Paris town hall opened in 1999, after magistrates received a complaint alleging widespread misuse of public funds, illegal party financing and destruction of evidence.

This did not prevent him from winning a second term in office in 2002. That year, his former chief of staff was placed under formal investigation amid allegations that fake contracts signed by Mr Chirac and his successor as mayor, Jean Tibéri, cost the city €4.5m. After stepping down in 2007, Mr Chirac was placed under formal investigation on several counts.

State prosecutors could appeal against the investigating magistrate's decision, forcing the Paris Appeal Court to make a final ruling on whether to try Mr Chirac.

Benefits system: Cronyism at the top

Jacques Chirac's spell as Mayor of Paris was a very good time to be sleeping with, married to, or simply well connected with somebody on an inside track with his Rassemblement pour la République (Gaullist) party. During the period from 1982 and 1996 nearly 700 people benefited from the largesse of the City Hall.

Among those who ended up on the municipal payroll were a mountaineer, a professional cyclist, a fencing star and the daughters, wives and nieces of several leading French politicians. The city funded these positions through an elaborate web of illicit kickbacks worth millions of euros from developers, building contractors and other big businesses.

Some 21 allegedly fraudulent job contracts have come back to haunt the popular former leader, making Mr Chirac potentially, the first ex-French head of state in modern times to endure the humiliation of having to defend himself in court.

But this is not the first case linking Mr Chirac to allegations of cronyism and sleaze. Alain Juppé (left), a former Prime Minister was convicted in 2004 for corruption during his time as a mayoral deputy to Mr Chirac. He was given a suspended jail term but many think Juppé shouldered the blame for his boss.

Dominique de Villepin (below), another former Prime Minister who served during Chirac's time in the Elysée, is awaiting a verdict on charges of trying to smear Nicolas Sarkozy in the so-called Clearstream scandal. Mr Chirac was accused by lawyers in court of ordering Villepin to frame the President.

There was a ghost in the room too during the conviction this week of the former interior minister Charles Pasqua, in the so-called Angolagate arms trade scandal. Pasqua claims the man who knew all about the deals was ... Jacques Chirac.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
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: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015