He may be one of France’s most popular former presidents, but Jacques Chirac has a rendezvous with justice.
Two years after leaving the Elysee Palace, the 76-year-old has been ordered to stand trial on embezzlement charges dating back to when he was the mayor of Paris.
This is the first time a former French head of state has been put on trial on such charges.
When Chirac handed over power to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 he lost immunity from prosecution. Sarkozy has refused to comment on the latest development.
French constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne said: “This demonstrates once and for all that under the current constitutional system French presidents have immunity, but they don’t have impunity … if there is a court case, and of course we can normally start a case according to common law once they leave the Elysee.”
Judge Xaviere Simioni made her ruling over accusations that Paris City Hall gave contracts for non-existent jobs as political favours. Chirac denies any wrongdoing. His office says he is “confident and determined” to prove before a court that none of the jobs in question were fictitious.
Observers say it is still not certain that Chirac will go on trial, because previously the Paris public prosecutor had previously recommended that the case be dropped. He now has five days to appeal the judge’s order.
It is reported that nine other people have also been ordered to stand trial alongside Chirac.
He was Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 95, and then served as president until 2007. Any hopes he might have had for a stress-free retirement, working for his charitable foundation, seem to have been dashed. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.