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French court annuls Chirac inquiry

Chirac still faces two further investigations
Chirac still faces two further investigations  

PARIS, France (CNN) -- A French court has annulled key parts of a corruption case that had implicated President Jacques Chirac in a party financing scam.

The court on Tuesday supported their appeal and ordered that magistrate Eric Halphen, who has tirelessly pursued the investigation since 1994, should be removed from the case.

Among the evidence that was thrown out by the appeals court on procedural grounds was an extraordinary beyond-the-grave confession from a former aide of Chirac's RPR party, Jean-Claude Mery.

The case revolves around how much knowledge Chirac had when he was mayor of Paris in a complicated and illegal party funding scheme in the 1980s.

Chirac has denied the accusations and refused to give evidence, quoting, in part, immunity of office.

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Profile: Jacques Chirac  

The case alleged Chirac's RPR party officials "sold" construction contracts in return for money that went into a party "slush fund."

In the video, Mery alleged Chirac was not only aware of the scam but was present on at least one occasion when large sums of cash were handed over at the town hall.

Mery died of cancer before the contents of the video were made public.

The case has now been handed over to judge Armand Riberolles, who is already investigating allegations that Chirac and his family used taxpayer money to fund personal trips and holidays. That is a charge the president denied in a televised interview in July.

Seeking to derail proceedings, two lawyers believed to be close to Chirac but officially representing two minor suspects asked the appeals court to invalidate the inquiry because some information had been obtained in an illegal fashion.

The court did this on Tuesday, annulling the investigation for "incorrect procedure."

The decision by the Paris Appeals Court represents a victory for 68-year-old Chirac, who is gearing up for an expected bid for a second term in next year's presidential election, but does not stop investigators from resuming their inquiries from scratch.

Chirac's conservative RPR party welcomed Tuesday's verdict. "This is proof that these shenanigans were the result of political and media manoeuvrings aimed at sullying one man," RPR Secretary General Serge Lepeltier said in a statement.

A legal source said it would now be up to Halphen's replacement to decide whether to resume the investigation against Chirac and make good the procedural errors.

• French President

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