The city of Paris pulled out of a corruption case against former French president Jacques Chirac today after he agreed to pay €2.2m lost to municipal funds because of a financing scandal while he was mayor.
Mr Chirac (aged 77) is facing trial on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust stemming from the scandal dating back to his 1977-1995 run as Paris mayor. The case marks the first time that a former leader of modern France has been forced to stand trial.
The deal does not close the case, but it will remove the last plaintiff other than the state, and could take some of the courtroom pressure off Mr Chirac when he goes to trial in late 2010 or early 2011.
Paris municipal council voted 147 to 13 with one abstention to drop the complaint after he and his conservative Union for a Popular Movement party agreed to the compensation.
The payback amounts to the salaries of 21 people hired by City Hall in what investigators have called a “fake jobs” scheme while he was mayor. The jobs were allegedly meant to help finance his conservative party, the Rally for the Republic, which was later replaced by the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP.
“This agreement is good for the city of Paris, good for Mr Chirac, and good on every level,” his lawyer Jean Veil said.
The city had been a civil party to the state’s case against Mr Chirac. If convicted, the former president could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined €150,000.
Mr Chirac has denied wrongdoing and has argued that France long had no judicial rules laying out a framework for party financing.
Current mayor Bertrand Delanoe insisted that there was no back-room negotiation with the UMP over the deal, and that party allegiances were not an issue in the case.
“When it comes to matters of morals, ethics and justice, you must have principles, and that’s what’s happening when it comes to these reparations,” Mr Delanoe said.
While Mr Chirac was president from 1995 to 2007, investigating judges went after him in corruption scandals – but he used his presidential immunity to keep them at arm’s length. After he left office, the cases were reopened.
Two months after leaving the presidency, Mr Chirac was questioned in an investigation of the case.
An investigator turned up a 1993 letter in which he had requested a raise for a secretary who was paid by City Hall, but who actually worked at party headquarters.