'Unfit' Chirac will not attend corruption trial

 

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The Independent Online

A French judge decided last night to try the former President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges but to excuse him attendance in court for health reasons.

A French judge decided last night to try the former President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges but to excuse him attendance in court for health reasons.

The decision by Judge Dominique Pauthe means that the long-awaited trial will proceed over the next three weeks but that Mr Chirac – who is accused of misusing taxpayers’ money to fund his political career - will not take any part in the proceedings.

In a lengthy medical report, sent to the court last Friday, an eminent French doctor said that Mr Chirac, 78, had a severe neurological disorder – anosognosia - which made it impossible for him to remember past events, answer questions or to brief his lawyers.

In a covering letter, Mr Chirac’s lawyers said that the ex-President “wanted the trial to go ahead”, even if he “no longer had the full capacity to take part”.

When the trial opened yesterday, an anti-corruption pressure group, Anticor, which is a civil plaintiff in the case, demanded an “independent” medical examination of the former president.

Anticor said the court must seek proof that the alleged disability was not a ploy to spare Mr Chirac the humiliation of becoming the first French ex-head of state to appear in court since Marshall Philippe Petain in 1945.

Both the prosecution service and Mr Chirac’s lawyers argued that the case against the ex-president, and nine other people, should go ahead without him. After retiring for 90 minutes, Judge Pauthe accepted their arguments.

Mr Chirac is accused of misusing the equivalent of just over €2m in taxpayers’ money when he was mayor of Paris in the 1980s and 1990s to fund his political party, and to give sweeteners to his friends. It is alleged that 28 people were placed on the town hall pay-roll who had nothing whatever to do with the city of Paris.

Anti-corruption campaigners say that the charges, though relatively trivial in themselves, are just one corner of a much larger web of illegal party financing organised by Mr Chirac and his aides. If convicted, the former president could face up to ten years in prison but would, in practice, receive a suspended jail sentence and fine.

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