The city of Paris announced yesterday that it would seek millions of euros in damages from President Jacques Chirac's political party for money embezzled in the so-called "Juppégate" scandal.
Alain Juppé, the former prime minister and a close ally of M. Chirac, was convicted on Friday of diverting Paris taxpayers' money to bankroll party jobs in the late 1980s and 1990s.
M. Chirac followed other politicians on the centre-right by, in effect, publicly challenging the court's right to declare the former prime minister a criminal and ban him from public office for a decade. M. Chirac saluted his friend's "exceptional quality, competence, humanity and honesty".
Judges and left-wing politicians said this amounted to a declaration by the head of state - supposedly the guardian of the legal system - that politicians, and especially M. Chirac's allies, were not subject to ordinary processes of the law.
Juppé, 58, Mayor of Bordeaux and president of M. Chirac's centre-right party, the UMP, has been under pressure from M. Chirac and other friends on the centre-right to retract his threat to quit politics. He is appealing against his conviction and is expected to announce tonight whether he will remain mayor and party chairman while awaiting the outcome.
President Chirac has ordered an inquiry, under the authority of the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, into allegations that the judges who tried Juppé were bugged, burgled and harassed. This inquiry was widely interpreted by the French press as an attempt to divert attention from a separate, criminal investigation.
Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist Mayor of Paris, said he expected the UMP to pay compensation. The RPR, the party funded illegally when M. Chirac was Mayor of Paris, has ceased to exist but M. Delanoe said he would seek compensation from its successor.