Former French president Jacques Chirac was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence for political corruption on Thursday in an unprecedented ruling by a Paris court. The case was the first conviction on corruption charges of a former head of state under the postwar Fifth Republic. Mr Chirac was president for two terms from 1995 to 2007 and had also previously served twice as prime minister.
The charges against the 79-year-old, one of France's most popular politicians of recent decades, stemmed from his 18 years as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, where he used the municipal town hall as his power base, first to win control of the French right and then to make his bid for the presidency, informs Financial Times.
The court said Thursday it had found Chirac guilty in two related cases involving fake jobs created at the RPR party, which he led during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris mayor. He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest.
Chirac repeatedly denied wrongdoing. It took years to get him to trial because he enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 1995-2007 presidential tenure, during which he led France into the shared euro currency and became the global champion of opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The court said it took into account his age, health and status as a former head of state when determining the light sentence, according to Washington Post.
A judge found Chirac guilty of embezzling public funds Thursday but suspended his two-year sentence in the landmark case. He was the first former French head of state to face prosecution in more than 15 years. Chirac has repeated denied any wrongdoing. Nine others have also been implicated in the case.
Chirac was accused of paying members of his Rally for the Republic political party with city funds by creating bogus municipal jobs for them. He was facing a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $160,000 fine, reports Voice of America.
"For all those who could have expected a rejection of the case against him, or at least no penalty, the ruling can appear disappointing," said Chirac lawyer Georges Kiejman. "What I hope is that this ruling doesn't change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac."
"We have to take a step back and read this ruling, we have to speak of course with the main person involved (Chirac), and we will know tonight if he accepts this decision or, on the contrary, he wants -- on principle -- to appeal. For the moment, it's impossible to say more," Kiejman said. Contacted by The Associated Press, Chirac spokeswoman Benedicte Brissart declined to comment immediately, saying time was needed to go over the legal decision. Chirac enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 1995-2007 presidential tenure, during which he led France into the shared euro currency and strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, says CTV.ca.