We knew for some time that this moment was coming, although perhaps he is going to be luckier that it seemed before.
THE judicial trail is closing in on France’s former president, Jacques Chirac. On Thursday July 19th a judge investigating a fake jobs scheme that allegedly benefited members of the ruling party (during Mr Chirac’s time as mayor of Paris) interviewed him as a “material witness”, meaning he was allowed to have a lawyer present and that he could, at a later stage, become the subject of a formal investigation.
The fake-jobs case is being led by Alain Philibeaux, a judge in Nanterre. Alain Juppé, Mr Chirac’s right-hand man when he was mayor from 1977-95, was convicted of political corruption in the same case in 2004. On Thursday Mr Chirac wrote in Le Monde that he was “ready to testify…in good faith”, and that he would tell investigators that the legality of party financing had been unclear for much of the time that he ran Paris. Mr Chirac may also have to testify in another case, led by Xavière Simeoni, a judge in Paris, also concerning fake jobs at the Paris town hall.
Mr Chirac’s presidential immunity expired in June and he faces a plethora of legal headaches. His lawyer, Jean Veil, argues that France’s constitution states that “The president of the republic shall incur no liability by reason of acts carried out in this official capacity.” In other words, Mr Chirac will co-operate with judicial investigations into periods before he became president in 1995, but not after. This decision, Mr Veil said, was “absolutely definitive”.
That leaves him open to questioning over the earlier fake-jobs case. But the claimed immunity would probably prevent his being mired in investigations into a controversial and messy plot known as the “Clearstream affair” which concerns alleged attempts to smear certain politicians by claiming (falsely) that they profited illegally from an arms deal in 1991.
Although Mr Chirac may avoid the Clearstream investigation his last prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, has not been so lucky. He has been summoned to meet two investigating judges on July 27th who may put him under formal investigation.
According to Le Monde, Chirac’s lawyer has said his statement has been a “calm and polite” one:
“Vous avez observé que c’est une audition qui dans la pratique judiciaire est relativement courte, elle s’est passée dans la sérénité, la courtoisie“, a déclaré son avocat Me Jean Veil. L’ancien président de la République a été entendu en tant que “témoin assisté”, intermédiaire entre le mis en examen et le simple témoin. Ce statut permet à une personne d’être assistée de son avocat mais n’implique pas de poursuites.
What did they expect? That Chirac was going to bite his nails? To shout at Judges? To insult them? Of course not, that would have been nearly as admitting he was responsible.
Le Monde also publishes an article written by Chirac, about the parties’ financing in France. Basically he considers that the political parties have adapted themselves to the evolution from a system where no regulation existed about their financing to another one in which it is ruled by law. He considers that, being the man who wanted to break with the past and who wanted to guarantee the transparency of the public accounts, the accusations against him are not very rational. He also points out that the cases in which someone has taken public money for personal interests, have been not very common and have ended punished for that.
Saint Jacques Chirac, then.
Of course, and I am Muhammad Ali. The fact that there are very few sentenced does not mean the corruption is not great. Normally the politicians -and in general all corrupt people- are bright enough -or their lawyers- not to leave trails or, if they do that, normally is so vague is practically impossible to detect them.