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March 06, 2011

Former French President on Trial for Corruption Charges

by Lisa Bryant

Former French President Jacques Chirac went on trial Monday on corruption charges related to hirings that allegedly benefited his center-right party. Chirac becomes the first French head of state to go on trial.

The charges date back to when former President Jacques Chirac was mayor of Paris, between 1977 and 1995. The 78-year-old former head of state is accused of giving people city hall jobs when they really worked for his then center-right Rally for the Republic Party.

He denies the allegations, arguing all the posts were legitimate.

Corruption allegations against Chirac have persisted for years. But as president, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution – which ended when he left office. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of about $207,000 dollars.

In brief remarks Sunday to France's Europe 1 radio, Chirac said he was as well as could be expected – French media have reported he may have Alzheimer's disease although his wife has denied this. He refused to discuss the trial.

During his last years in office, Chirac battled high unpopularity ratings. But now, he is among the most popular figures in France – and the French are divided over whether he should stand trial.

Dominique Paille, spokesman for the ruling, center-right UMP party – which was founded under Chirac's presidency – said the French justice system could have avoided a trial.

Paille told France Info radio it was sad that Chirac should be on trial at the end of his life. He said Chirac's political legacy dwarfed the allegations against him – and that the trial would hurt France's image.

Last year, Paris city hall dropped separate civil charges against Chirac following a $3 million settlement. Chirac, however, did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.