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Courts rejects Chirac witness call

Chirac had been called as a witness in a sleaze case
Chirac had been called as a witness in a sleaze case  

PARIS, France -- A French court has rejected a civil motion to summon President Jacques Chirac as a witness in an embezzlement probe.

The Paris appeals court backed two judges who in December rejected the motion to have him called as a witness into the investigation of a printing company called Sempap.

The case is one of several dating back to Chirac's time as Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995.

The appeals judges said the motion amounted to levelling charges of wrongdoing against the president, who as head of state enjoys immunity from questioning.

"According to them, our request was written in accusatory terms and amounted to implicating (the president)," said a source close to the plaintiff, a public affairs activist who asked not to be named in relation to his motion against Chirac.

The activist said he would appeal against the decision to the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeals court.

The inquiry, opened in 1997, reportedly shows Chirac was alerted by city inspectors in 1989 and 1992 to charges of embezzlement of public funds by the directors of the printing company, which did publishing work for the city of Paris.

No measures were taken and Sempap was subsequently dissolved by Chirac's successor as mayor, Jean Tiberi.

Chirac has invoked presidential immunity to fend off persistent charges of corruption during his time as Paris mayor and investigating magistrates have cited his immunity as why they cannot open an inquiry into them.

One magistrate investigating allegations that Chirac's right-wing RPR party took bribes from building firms in return for contracts said in a report in April he had gathered "plausible evidence" implicating Chirac.

But he and another investigator chasing up suspected fraud and bogus jobs for RPR members at Paris City Hall during Chirac's tenure had declared themselves powerless to pursue the matter further. Chirac has denied all accusations of sleaze.

Efforts this month by maverick Socialist deputy Arnaud Montebourg to launch impeachment proceedings against the president have so far failed to win enough support.

But they prompted the ruling Socialists to pass a bill to curb the immunity of future heads of state.

• Office of the French President

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