French ex-president Chirac convicted in graft trial

PARIS, (Reuters) – A judge found former French  president Jacques Chirac guilty on Thursday of misusing public  funds, making him the country’s first head of state to be  convicted since Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Petain in  1945.

Chirac, 79, was absent from the court as the judge declared  him guilty of knowingly operating a system that diverted about  1.4 million euros of Paris City Hall funds for political   purposes when he was mayor of the French capital.

Jacques Chirac

The judge handed down a suspended two-year jail sentence on  Chirac, who was president from 1995 until 2007 and suffers from  neurological problems, according to his doctors.

Lawyers who had sought a conviction said the verdict on  Chirac served as a reminder to France’s ruling class that  politicians could not abuse their position with impunity.

Chirac was tried on charges of channelling public money into  phantom jobs for political cronies when he was mayor of Paris  between 1977 and 1995, a time when he built a new centre-right  Gaullist party that launched his bid to become president.

Chirac, excused from much of the proceedings on the grounds  of a failing memory, could in theory have been sent to jail for  10 years, the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

Chirac’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told reporters that he  would talk to his client before deciding later in the day  whether to make an appeal.

“The verdict may look severe but it is worth noting that the  court acted with a large measure of moderation, highlighting   the personal qualities of president Chirac, how old the events  in question were and the role he played in reorganising how  political parties are funded,” Kiijman said.
Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for an anti-corruption association  that sought a conviction, said Thursday’s ruling was “historic  and exemplary”.

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