French convict former leader Chirac of corruption
PARIS (AP) — As French president, Jacques Chirac was called all
sorts of names, not the least for his vociferous opposition to the
U.S.-led war in Iraq. Now, he has a moniker that will stick: Convicted
The avuncular 79-year-old on Thursday became France’s first former
leader to be convicted since Marshal Philippe Petain, who headed the
Nazi collaborationist regime during World War II, in 1945. Chirac will
not go to prison, but received a two-year suspended sentence for
corruption linked to his 18-year term as the mayor of Paris.
The verdict was an uncomfortable coda to Chirac’s four-decade career
as a fixture of French politics, and could aid efforts by critics to
rid the political system of its cushy cronyism. It also tarnishes the
lofty image that French presidents often enjoy at home just as the
country gears up for another presidential race.
Chirac was found guilty in two related cases involving 19 totally or
partially fake jobs created for his benefit at the RPR party, which he
led as Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995. He was convicted of embezzling
public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest.
Critics of the conservative Chirac — many on the political left —
hailed the decision as measured and courageous, saying the court showed
how political elites and average citizens were equal under the law.
Anti-corruption crusaders, long frustrated by dirty dealings in the
French political machine, rejoiced.
“I see it as a historic and very important decision for the future
of French democracy,” said Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for the
anti-corruption group Anticor, which had argued against Chirac as a
civil party to the case.
“This is a strong message from the court — a message to all
politicians of responsibility. It’s also proof of a mature and
transparent democracy that is today able to make a distinction and try
a former president,” Karsenti added.
Allies, however, expressed personal sadness for Chirac, praising him
as a defender of French values on the world stage who was now
embarrassed by what some characterized as a scandal of little
“This is a decision that I don’t believe will alter the personal
relationship between the French people and Jacques Chirac,” said Prime
Minister Francois Fillon, a fellow conservative.
“This conviction is severe — it’s both criminal and moral,” said
Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party presidential candidate, who
recently appeared in public with Chirac. “It strikes at the man, so I
have a thought for him.”
Because Chirac has suffered from ill health and memory lapses
recently, he was spared from appearing in court for a trial sought for
years by investigating judges. The trial, which started in March, only
became possible after he left office and lost his presidential immunity
The three-judge panel juggled an array of considerations as they
handed down their 120-page ruling: Chirac’s age and fading memory; the
state prosecutor’s call for the case to be thrown out for a lack of
evidence; a recent reimbursement deal between Chirac, his allies and
Paris City Hall.
In the end, the court faulted Chirac for criminal exploitation of
political tools — even if he never benefited financially — that
cemented his march to higher office.
“His guilt results from perennial and repeated practices attributed
to him, and whose development was greatly favored by a perfect
understanding of the wheels of the city machinery,” the court said in
The court said it took into account his age, health and status as a
former head of state when determining the light sentence — Chirac could
have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined euro150,000 ($ 210,000).
The other nine defendants on trial included members of France’s
political elite. Two were acquitted and seven convicted, including
former French leader Charles de Gaulle’s grandson, the brother of the
Constitutional Court president, and former Chirac aides.
A Chirac lawyer said they were analyzing the ruling before
announcing whether he would appeal. Chirac has repeatedly denied
In a brief statement, President Nicolas Sarkozy said “it is not his place to comment” on the verdict but commented anyway.
“These circumstances mustn’t make us forget Jacques Chirac’s
constant commitment to serving France, which won and continues to win
him the affection of the French,” said Sarkozy, whose conservative UMP
party is the successor to Chirac’s RPR party.
In another recent scandal, two longtime Sarkozy allies have been
targeted in a case of suspected kickbacks in a 1990s French defense
deal with Pakistan. Sarkozy served as budget minister at the time, but
his office and allies insist he was not involved.
Chirac’s adopted daughter fought back tears after the ruling.
“The justice system has been very severe, but this is a fair and
independent justice system. For the family, it’s a great pain we have
to accept,” said Anh Dao Traxel, her voice cracking with emotion
outside the courtroom.
A career politician, Chirac was a debonair master of the workings of
public office. He modeled himself after de Gaulle, and was nicknamed
“Le Bulldozer” early in his career for his determination and ambition.
France’s last leader with memories of World War II, Chirac was the
first to acknowledge the nation’s responsibility for the deportation of
Jews during the Holocaust. But he struggled to achieve reforms to the
regulated economy and failed to defuse tensions between police and
minority youth that exploded into riots in 2005.
Now focusing on charitable work now, he is one of France’s most popular public figures.
Chirac made his reputation internationally for refusing to join U.S.
President George W. Bush’s drive to the war that toppled Saddam Hussein
as leader of Iraq in 2003 — fomenting some anti-French feeling in the
A Las Vegas radio station once used an armored vehicle to crush
photographs of Chirac, photocopies of the French flag, a Paris travel
guide, bottles of wine and French bread. French fries in Congress were
renamed “freedom fries,” and some critics called the French
“cheese-eating surrender monkeys” — a barb pulled from “The Simpsons”
TV cartoon show.
Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.