France's Chirac guilty of graft, escapes jail

France's Chirac guilty of graft, escapes jail

Former president convicted for misusing public funds

The 79-year-old statesman, who was excused from court on medical grounds, was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement between 1990 and 1995, when he was mayor of the French capital.

In their ruling, judges said Chirac’s behaviour had cost Paris taxpayers the equivalent of $1.8 million.

“Jacques Chirac breached the duty of trust that weighs on public officials charged with caring for public funds or property, in contempt of the general interest of Parisians,” the ruling said.

First prez on trial

He is the first president of modern France to be tried, although Nazi-era collaborationist leader Philippe Petain was convicted of treason and the country’s last king, Louis XVI, was sent to the guillotine in 1793.

The verdict marked the end of a long legal drama. France’s current foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was convicted in the same case in 2004 but has since returned to public life and is a key ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Thursday’s sentence was a surprise. Even state prosecutors had called for Chirac — who still polls as one of France’s most popular figures — to be cleared, and France has largely forgiven his long history of corruption.

“I hope this judgment won’t change the profound affection that the French people still rightly have for Jacques Chirac,” defence counsel Georges Kiejman said, adding that Chirac would decide later in the day whether to appeal.

‘Too harsh’

Chirac’s 54-year-old Vietnamese-born adopted daughter Anh Dao Traxel, said the ruling had been “too, too harsh”. “Justice has spoken, it must be respected but it’s unfortunately a great pain for our family and for Jacques Chirac,” she told reporters.

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