Jacques Chirac, the former French president, has been ordered to stand trial on embezzlement charges over accusations he rewarded cronies with payments for non-existent jobs while mayor of Paris.
If the case goes ahead it will make Chirac the first holder of France‘s highest office to face a corruption trial.
The Paris public prosecutor has previously said the charges should be thrown out and is expected to appeal against the ruling by an investigating magistrate, Xavière Simeoni, that the evidence against Chirac warrants a trial.
Chirac was mayor of the French capital between 1977 and 1995 before being elected to the Elyseé for 12 years. He is accused of having used his position as mayor to award 21 “ghost” contracts to his political aides and paying them from the city payroll.
Upon hearing news of Simeoni’s recommendation, Chirac declared himself to be “serene” and “determined to prove” that the allegations are false.
Protected throughout his two terms as president by constitutional immunity, the 76-year-old political grandee’s name has been mentioned in several alleged corruption controversies since he was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
The “sham jobs” affair, as the local media have dubbed it, is the first to have led to the prospect of him standing trial. The charges were first made in November 2007 and stem from 35 allegedly fictitious contracts awarded while and just after he was Paris mayor.
After trawling through 481 supposedly fake deals, Simeoni decided that 21 of them were for non-existent employment. Simeoni threw out other charges of forging government documents.
If the Paris prosecutor’s appeal fails and Simeoni gets her way, it will be a spectacular fall from grace for a man who in recent years has succeeded in transforming his public image from that of cynical political manipulator to genial grandfather of the nation.
Since vacating the Elyseé, Chirac has enjoyed an unexpected resurgence in popularity – due at least partly to the contrast between his conservative image and his successor’s ostentatiousness. Next week will see the release of his keenly awaited memoirs.
His post-presidential comeback has not been to everyone’s taste. A number of scandals emanating from his period in office have left his reputation largely unsullied while tearing those of other people to shreds. This week, the former interior minister Charles Pasqua demanded that Chirac “shoulder his responsibilities” in an arms trafficking trial that led to convictions for Pasqua and several others. The so-called Clearstream trial wrapped up last week. Chirac’s former prime minister and key ally Dominique de Villepin stood accused of concocting an elaborate smear campaign against Sarkozy.
One day, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abdulsallam and other Nigerian crooks will also fail trial!