Last updated: September 5, 2011 5:03 pm

Chirac trial to be held in his absence

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The corruption trial of Jacques Chirac can go ahead without the presence of the former French president, a court has declared.

The question of whether he would appear in person before a Paris court had been initially undecided as the trial got underway on Monday.

Lawyers engaged in a heated debate during a procedural hearing after Mr Chirac’s legal team said he was not well enough to make court appearances scheduled for this month, as he suffered from “severe memory lapses”.

The court later ruled that Mr Chirac would not be “ordered to appear in person” but would be tried in his absence, represented by his lawyers.

The case is the first prosecution for corruption of a former head of state under the Fifth Republic. Mr Chirac was twice prime minister and twice elected president.

The allegations against the 78-year-old stem from his 18 years as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, where he used the municipal town hall as his power base, first to win control of the French right and then to make his bid for the presidency.

According to investigators, Mr Chirac allegedly created jobs at Paris City Hall for friends and political allies.

If convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison and a €150,000 fine. He denies any wrongdoing.

Nine other individuals also face charges in the affair.

Jérôme Karsenti, a lawyer for anti-corruption lobby group Anticor, which is a civil party in the case, called for the court to avoid what he termed “luxury justice, priority justice”.

The main victim, Paris City Hall, dropped its complaint last year after the former president and the ruling centre-right UMP party struck a deal, without admission of wrongdoing, to repay €2.2m ($3m) to the mayor’s office.

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