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French court suspends graft trial of ex-president Chirac

The precedent-setting corruption and embezzlement trial of former French President Jacques Chirac has been suspended over constitutional questions. Chirac is accused of abusing his power as mayor of Paris in the 1990s.

Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac may be off the hook - at least in part of the case

A Paris judge decided Tuesday to delay part of a historic corruption trial against former French President Jacques Chirac, who stands accused of embezzlement while serving as mayor of Paris in the 1990s.

Judge Dominique Pauthe agreed to adjourn until June in order to refer a constitutional question raised by the lawyer of one of Chirac's nine co-defendants to an appeals court. That court may then send the case to France's constitutional court.

The lawyer argued that a key complaint in the case was made too long ago to merit a trial today, and that the prosecution should not have combined two cases for a single trial.

The hearings should resume "around June 20" the Paris court said.

Chirac accused

Chirac stands accused of misusing public funds to pay people working for his political party while he served as the mayor of Paris.

He allegedly gave fake jobs to seven members of his party, putting them on the city payroll, and created 21 other jobs for which he is accused of embezzlement and betrayal of the public trust.

Alain Juppe

France's new foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was already been convicted in the case in 2004

After serving as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, Chirac became France's president from 1995 and 2007, during which time he was immune from prosecution.

If convicted, Chirac could face up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($210,000).

However, a guilty verdict is widely viewed as unlikely. State prosecutors have already called for the case to be dismissed.

Last year, Paris city hall dropped its civil charges against the former president in return for a payment of over 2.2 million euros from Chirac and his center-right UMP party.

Chirac shelled out over 500,000 euros from his own pocket but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Author: David Levitz (AP, AFP, dpa)

Editor: Rob Turner

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