Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mon Dieu! Frog Season Opens

Former French president, Jacques Chirac. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Couldn't happen to a nicer weasel-look-alike Froggie.
Chirac faces corruption inquiry

Jacques Chirac is to be questioned by judges investigating alleged corruption in the Paris city government while he was mayor.

Jean Veil, the lawyer for the former French president, confirmed Mr Chirac will "very probably" be questioned before September 15 as an "assisted witness", meaning it remains possible he will face criminal charges.

The 74-year-old faces a series of potential legal problems now that he no longer enjoys presidential immunity. He handed over the French presidency to Nicolas Sarkozy on May 16.

The case involves claims members of the conservative Rally for the Republic party, which Mr Chirac headed, were illegally on the payroll of the Paris government while he was mayor between 1977 and 1995.

"For the period up to 1995 when he was elected president he is a citizen like any other, and he will answer all questions in all the cases that may concern him," Mr Veil told Europe 1 radio.

Mr Chirac's ally Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, was convicted in the affair in 2004 and banned from politics for one year.

Mr Chirac's lawyer stressed he has given an "absolutely definitive" refusal to be questioned in two other cases, including the so-called Clearstream affair in which it is said senior politicians and business figures - including Mr Sarkozy - received illegal commissions on a major arms sale to Taiwan.

Judges have indicated they want to interview Mr Chirac over claims he ordered a secret intelligence probe in 2004 to see if the allegations against Mr Sarkozy were true. The two men have had strained relations for several years.

Mr Veil has also announced the former president will refuse to respond to allegations of a murder cover-up over the death of a French judge in Djibouti in 1995.

Mr 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 during his tenure.

In the Djibouti case, Mr Chirac prevented judges from making a rare search of the presidential Élysée palace last month while he was still in office.
Congressman William Jefferson was unavailable for comment.

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