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France's former president, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of corruption Thursday, and given a two-year suspended jail term.
Jacques Chirac, former president of France, was found guilty of corruption Thursday, and given a two-year suspended sentence.
Chirac, 79, was not present to hear the verdict due to health problems which have affected his memory.
The charges of diverting public funds and abusing public trust date back to his term as mayor of Paris, the office he held for almost 20 years prior to becoming president in 1995.
Over the first half of the 1990s, Chirac is accused of putting members of his Rally for the Republic party on the public pay roll for supposedly doing jobs that were later discovered not to exist, the BBC reported. A total of 28 bogus positions were found to have been invented.
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Chirac has denied the charges. His legal team will decide by Thursday evening whether or not to appeal the verdict, one of his lawyers, Georges Kiejmann, told Agence France Presse.
Nine other people were accused of involvement, of whom two were acquitted and seven found guilty. They were given suspended sentences ranging from two to four months.
The conviction came as a surprise, according to Radio France International, since even the prosecution had asked for Chirac to be cleared.
Despite a long history of trials of politicians, leading French personalities have generally escaped punishment, leading to accusations of complicity between the justice system and ruling circles.
The anti-corruption group which pursued the case against Chirac, Anticor, hailed the verdict as "historic." Spokeswoman Séverine Tessier told Libération the conviction proved that "we're still a republic and no one is above the law."
His adoptive daughter Anh Dao Traxel, present in court, described the sentence as "too, too harsh," however. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and €150,000 (around $195,000) in fines.
Chirac is only the second French head of state to be convicted since Philippe Pétain, the head of the wartime Vichy government, who was found guilty of treason in 1945. He is the first president of the French Republic to be tried in court.
Chirac was immune from prosecution while president of France between 1995 and 2007. Now said to be suffering neurological problems that cause memory loss, he is still fondly regarded as a "grandfather figure" by many French people, wrote the New York Times, but his conviction will leaving a lasting stain on his reputation.
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