Chirac's trial to continue without ailing ex-leader

Chirac's trial to continue without ailing ex-leader

Jacques Chirac's corruption trial will continue in his absence, a court in Paris ruled on the opening day of the trial Monday, excusing the 78-year-old former French president from the proceedings because of his medical problems, DPA reported.

The court granted a request by Chirac's lawyers that they represent him, after a neurologist declared Chirac unfit to be put on the stand.

Family members say he suffers from memory lapses and that his health has declined in recent months. On recent public outings he has appeared frail and disoriented.

Speculation had been swirling that the trial could be postponed, possibly indefinitely, after his lawyers on Friday submitted a four-page medical report outlining his memory problems.

Chirac himself had insisted he wished the trial to continue regardless.

The first trial of a former French president has already been delayed by six months, while an appeals court examined a constitutional challenge raised by one of his nine co-defendants. The court found the challenge to be invalid.

Chirac is charged with embezzlement of public funds, breach of trust and illegal conflict of interest over the creation of 28 "ghost jobs" for members of his party at the City of Paris and the nearby town of Nanterre when he was mayor of Paris, between 1977 and 1995.

From there he went on to become president from 1995 to 2007, during which time he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros (212,000 dollars), although analysts say it is highly unlikely he would get jail time.

The city of Paris, the original plaintiff in the case, withdrew its complaint after Chirac and the ruling Union for a Popular Majority, which was born out of his Rally for the Republic party, paid a 2.2-million-euro settlement.

But an anti-graft association, Anticor, then took up the case, saying it wanted the Chirac case to serve as an example of politicians being held to account.

"Jacques Chirac was sick and is sick," his lawyer, Jean Veil, told the court Monday, assuring his client had no desire to avoid being judged.

The prosecution had also appealed to Judge Dominique Pauthe to allow the trial to proceed in Chirac's absence.

It was not clear, however, how his co-defendants would react to the ruling.

Jean-Yves Le Borgne, lawyer for Remy Chardon, Chirac's former chief of staff at the City of Paris, said before the ruling that the absence of the main accused would "rob the trial of its meaning."

But a lawyer for another defendant said he saw no reason why the trial could not proceed.

The question of Chirac's health has hung over the trial since the start of the proceedings in March. In January, his wife Bernadette rejected reports he had Alzheimer's disease.

Le Journal du Dimanche weekly on Sunday reported he was suffering from "anosognosia" - a brain disorder whereby a person suffering from an illness or disability seems unaware of his or her condition.

Given his age and visibly weakened condition, many French people have lost their desire to see Chirac face justice.

An unpopular president by the end of his second term, he has experienced a surge in popularity in retirement, with many people nostalgic for his affable but dignified style.

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