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 special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
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: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: Physics Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...

Recruitment Genius: Case Manager - Occupational Therapist / Physiotherapist

£28000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee