Europe

Jacques Chirac's Paris corruption trial halted

French former President Jacques Chirac (7 March 2011)
Image caption Mr Chirac denies embezzlement, breach of trust and conflict of interest

A Paris court has suspended the corruption trial of France's former President, Jacques Chirac, in response to a legal challenge.

A lawyer for one of nine co-defendants had argued that it was unconstitutional to merge two cases arising from Mr Chirac's tenure as mayor of Paris.

The judge, Dominique Pauthe, said the court would reconvene on 20 June.

Mr Chirac denies paying members of his RPR party between 1977 and 1995 for municipal jobs that did not exist.

He is the first French ex-head of state to face a criminal trial since wartime leader Field Marshal Philippe Petain was convicted of treason.

The two cases centre on the latter years of Mr Chirac's time as Paris mayor.

In the first, brought by Paris investigators, he is charged with embezzlement and breach of trust over the employment of 21 so-called "ghost" jobs.

The second came about from a separate investigation in the Paris suburb of Nanterre and involved the charge of illegal conflict of interest relating to seven ghost jobs.

A lawyer representing co-defendant Remy Chardon, Mr Chirac's former Paris chief of staff, complained that the two cases had been brought together because the statute of limitations had run out on the first Paris case.

The judge ruled that his complaint would have to be considered by France's highest court, the Court of Cassation. That court will then have to decide whether to refer the case to France's Constitutional Council.

'Disappointed'

Anti-corruption group Anticor said the ruling meant Mr Chirac was again going to escape the justice system.

But Mr Chardon's lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, insisted the former president had nothing to do with the decision to seek a postponement to the case.

And a lawyer representing Mr Chirac, Georges Kiejman, said his client's legal team should take "neither the credit nor the blame" for it.

Mr Chirac was not in court for the first two days of the trial but had been expected to appear on Wednesday.

"Jacques Chirac does not want this. Jacques Chirac will be disappointed not to be able to explain himself tomorrow," Mr Kiejman said.

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