Magistrates seize 'confession tape' that implicates Chirac in fraud

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The Independent Online

Three investigating magistrates yesterday seized a videotape which alleges that President Jacques Chirac received a £500,000 cash payment as part of an elaborate party-funding fraud at Paris city hall.

Three investigating magistrates yesterday seized a videotape which alleges that President Jacques Chirac received a £500,000 cash payment as part of an elaborate party-funding fraud at Paris city hall.

The allegations - dismissed as "lies, calumny and manipulation" by Mr Chirac - have caused a political storm in France. Yesterday, the newspaper Le Monde published the second part of the transcript of the hour-long tape, in which a since-deceased official for Mr Chirac's party, the RPR, described his work in fixing public-works contracts and claiming multi-million pounds kick-backs for all mainstream French political parties in the Eighties and early Nineties.

The magistrates raided the offices yesterday of the freelance television producer who made the tape at the official's request four years ago. The accusations will be studied by magistrates undertaking two investigations into the financing of the President's party.

In the first part of the transcript, published on Thursday, Jean-Claude Méry, a property developer and former member of the RPR central committee, said that he handed over Fr5m (£500,000) in cash to Mr Chirac and the head of his private office in October 1986. Mr Méry said that this money was not for the RPR but for Mr Chirac himself.

The second part of the transcript saidthe whole operation was run "on Mr Chirac's orders". However, Mr Méry - who recorded the video three years before his death in 1999 - contradicted the claim, or implication, that the President and former mayor of Paris benefited personally from the kick-backs.

"I start from the principle that I did what I did for Jacques Chirac," he said. "Not for his personal pockets, I want to make that clear ... but we were working uniquely on Mr Chirac's orders and [the money] was generally reserved ... for the RPR." This clarification reduces but does not completely undermine the seriousness of the posthumous allegations against Mr Chirac. It is generally recognised that all French parties funded themselves by shaking down businesses until the mid-Nineties. However, the scale and complexity of this claimed fraud is breath-taking.

Mr Méry says the tender bidding for all large public works contracts in Paris was fixed by himself. In return, a percentage was "kicked back" in cash, mostly to the RPR but also to other parties.

The second part of the transcript also lifts some of the mystery about why the tape was made. Mr Méry was jailed for six months in 1994 by magistrates investigating alleged corruption in the Paris city hall. Mr Chirac was then running for the presidency and Mr Méry says he was promised protection by unnamed RPR figures if he kept quiet.

Mr Chirac was elected but the promises were not kept, Mr Méry said. Friends urged him to make a taped confession, for his own protection and to force the party to keep its promises.

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