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France

Chirac trial underway in his absence

AFP

French judges are to examine the evidence in the case against Jacques Chirac on Tuesday, even though Judge Dominique Pauthe on Monday formally excused the French former president from attendance on health grounds.

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Chirac will be 79 shortly and in a medical report commissioned by his family, a team of neurologists concludes that he "has severe memory problems" and makes "major errors of judgement and reasoning."

Chirac is accused on two counts of paying members of his political party for non-existent municipal jobs in Paris, where he was mayor from 1977 until 1995.

The trial was set for March, but was postponed until September, after lawyers for a co-defendant won a postponement by arguing that certain charges were unconstitutional.

France's highest appeal court later over-ruled the challenge, and Chirac was scheduled to appear, until on Saturday his lawyers claimed he was unfit, citing the medical report.

Paris City Hall recently dropped a civil suit against him in exchange for a payment of more than 2.2 million euros from him and his right-wing UMP party.

Chirac paid more than half a million euros of that sum from his own pocket, but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Since he left office, Chirac has become a popular figure in France, where he is praised especially for his strident opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.

Public opinion is divided over the trial - it is now almost twenty years since the period concerned - but some point out that this is largely because Chirac benefited from presidential immunity from prosecution during the 12 years he held office.

Jérôme Karsenti, a lawyer for the civil party in this case, an anti-corruption group called "Anticor", appeared to accept that the former president is not able to answer detailed questions about events so long ago."We do not want the trial to be humiliating" he said.

 

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