Jacques Chirac's former chauffeur publishes a book this week that accuses the French head of state of being a persistent philanderer and sexual harasser of his female members of staff.
Publication of the book, an act of revenge by a man fired after 25 years' service, is an unusual event in France, where the alleged sexual escapades of politicians are generally ignored. The ex-chauffeur, Jean-Claude Laumond, and the publisher, Ramsay, must have thought their timing was perfect. President Chirac already stands accused of using taxpayers' cash to fund private holidays while he was the Mayor of Paris. Mr Laumond, Mr Chirac's chauffeur from 1972 to 1997, claims he delivered the parcels of banknotes to a travel agent in the Paris suburbs. The apocalyptic events in America have, though, overshadowed the book launch. Mr Laumond's claims have been played down in the press as Mr Chirac, who dined last night with President George Bush in the White House, tries to take on the mantle of statesman.
For legal reasons, Vingt-cinq Ans Avec Lui (Twenty-five Years With Him) describes Mr Chirac's alleged extra-marital love life in very general terms. To reveal details of anyone's private life is illegal in France. No names are mentioned, other than that of the President and the centre-right politician Marie-France Garaud who, the chauffeur claims, had a relationship with Mr Chirac that was "both maternal and amorous". Mr Chirac could sue his former chauffeur for defamation and/or invasion of privacy, but he is thought unlikely to risk a court action with a presidential election seven months away.
The chauffeur also repeats the allegation that President Chirac was with a mistress on the night Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a road accident in Paris in 1997.
Mr Laumond says the procession of women to Mr Chirac's office in the Rue de Lille, headquarters of the neo-Gaullist RPR party, was so constant that women staffers would joke: "Chirac? Three minutes. Shower included."
Bernadette Chirac knew of her husband's escapades but was not reconciled to them, according to Mr Laumond. When he parked the presidential car at the Elysée Palace after driving Mr Chirac to an assignation, he says, Mrs Chirac would call to him "like a Neapolitan concierge" from a window in the palace: "And my husband, Mr Laumond, where is he?"
Although he was in a position to know Mr Chirac intimately, the chauffeurmakes absurd claims and factual errors. He alleges that he was fired on the insistence of Mrs Chirac after he married the daughter of a well-known doctor in Corrèze, the Chiracs' fiefdom. Mr Laumond claims that the French first lady feared he might become a political rival, first for her (as a councillor in Corrèze) and eventually her husband. That is implausible.
Officially, he was removed for lapses of discipline. He was eventually assigned to inspect the lavatories in the municipal cemeteries of Paris.Reuse content