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Former French president Chirac to be questioned in corruption case

Former French President Jacques Chirac is to be questioned in the coming months over a corruption scandal involving fake jobs and linked to the former conservative political party he headed, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Chirac will "very probably" be questioned before Sept. 15 in the long-running case as a material witness, lawyer Jean Veil said on RTL radio. The role of a material witness means that Chirac himself is not under investigation.

The fake jobs case is the most potent of a string of potential legal problems the 74-year-old Chirac faces now that he no longer has presidential immunity. He handed over the French presidency to Nicolas Sarkozy on May 16.

The jobs case dates back to Chirac's years as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, when Chirac also headed the conservative party Rally for the Republic, or RPR. Investigators say operatives from the RPR were illegally on the Paris city payroll.

However, the lawyer stressed Tuesday that Chirac has given an "absolutely definitive" refusal to being questioned in two other cases - the so-called Clearstream affair involving a smear campaign against Sarkozy, and the alleged killing of a French judge in Djibouti in 1995.

Chirac's office said last week that, because he had constitutionally guaranteed judicial immunity while he was president, he cannot be ordered to provide testimony about incidents that happened during his tenure.

In the Djibouti case, Chirac prevented judges from making a rare search of the presidential Elysee Palace last month, while he was still in office.

Judge Alain Philibeaux in Nanterre, west of Paris, is investigating the fake jobs scheme. Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, a close Chirac ally, was convicted in a related case in 2004 and given a 14-month suspended prison sentence and a year-long ban from politics.

Veil has said he is also in contact with Paris Judge Xaviere Simeoni, who is investigating an offshoot of the fake jobs scandal - allegations that paid adviser posts were created at city hall but no work was ever done. She is also investigating whether Chirac's wife, Bernadette - and possibly Chirac himself - received free flights on a now-defunct airline founded by a close friend.

Few expect Chirac to go to jail, but the legal woes mark an embarrassing finale to his 40-year political career.

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