France: Jacques Chirac corruption trial opens

image captionUnder French law the former president is not obliged to be in court

Former French President Jacques Chirac has gone on trial on charges he misused public funds while he was mayor of Paris, before he was president.

Mr Chirac is accused of paying cronies between 1977 and 1995 for city hall jobs that did not exist.

The 78-year-old has always denied the charges.

He is the first French ex-head of state to face criminal charges since Field Marshal Philippe Petain was convicted of treason after World War II.

Rumours of ill health

Monday's opening hearing was scheduled to deal with procedural matters.

Nine other people are on trial, including Mr Chirac's former chief of staff Remy Chardon, 61, whose lawyer is aiming to have the case adjourned on the grounds that bringing the two cases together is unconstitutional.

Under French law the former president is not obliged to be in court but he is due to appear on Tuesday despite rumours of ill health.

Mr Chirac's wife has rejected claims that the former president is suffering from Alzheimer's.

The trial brings together two separate cases, both involving allegations that people were employed on the Paris mayor's payroll while working instead for Mr Chirac's RPR party.

One case, brought by a Paris magistrate, involves charges of embezzlement and breach of trust over the employment of 21 people.

The other case for which Mr Chirac is charged with conflict of interest, involves seven jobs and has been brought by an investigating judge in Nanterre.

Paris settlement

Mr Chirac's trial started even though the main plaintiff has dropped out. The city of Paris withdrew its complaint last year after reaching a settlement with the former president and the ruling UMP party amounting to 2.2m euros (£1.9m; $3m).

The prosecutor in charge of the original investigation believes there is insufficient evidence to bring a conviction.

It is only because two pressure groups have picked up the case and pursued it that it will go ahead at all.

In theory Mr Chirac could face up to 10 years in prison, but most legal experts say even if he were convicted it is unlikely he will serve any time.

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