PARIS (Reuters) - Jacques Chirac’s presidential immunity expires at midnight on Saturday, opening the way for judges to question him over a string of investigations into alleged corruption and other scandals in France.
During two terms as president from May 1995, Chirac benefited from a constitutional bar on the prosecution or investigation of a serving head of state by the examining magistrates who conduct criminal investigations in France.
Chirac, 74, is not widely expected to face any charges. The prosecution of a former head of state could damage the standing of France’s presidency.
But as an ordinary citizen, Chirac could face a summons to answer questions in a series of cases, many of which date back to the 18 years when he was mayor of Paris until 1995.
Dossiers include allegations that Chirac enjoyed free travel from a private company while he was president, and accusations that corruption was rife at City Hall when he was Paris mayor.
Chirac has denied any wrongdoing during his 1977-95 tenure as Paris mayor and his lawyer, Jean Veil, declined to comment on the cases.
In some dossiers the former French leader could be heard as a witness -- meaning he is not a suspect -- in others he could eventually placed under formal investigation.
Veil denied Chirac could face a summons as early as Monday by judges looking into a suspected attempt to smear Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who succeeded him as president.
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A video released after the death of aide Jean-Claude Mery alleged that Chirac’s conservative party received funds that had been raked off public works contracts when he was Paris mayor.
Mery said he once handed over five million francs (762,000 euros) in cash to Chirac’s former chief aide while the then mayor was present. Chirac dismissed the report as “lies, calumny and a manipulation”.
Chirac could also face investigation over fake jobs created for members of his conservative party and their allies.
Some Chirac associates have been convicted of embezzlement, corruption or electoral fraud and been given suspended jail terms and fines.
Constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne told the Le Monde daily Chirac could be held to account for actions taken while he was Paris mayor, but not while he was France’s president.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday Chirac was now “answerable for his actions like any other (person).”
During France’s recent presidential election campaign, Sarkozy denied he would grant Chirac a “disguised amnesty” by forcing judges to prosecute within 10 years of opening a dossier or close the case.
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