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Chirac avoids scandal hearings

Chirac has always argued he is protected by presidential immunity  

PARIS, France -- France's highest court has ruled that President Jacques Chirac cannot be forced to testify in an investigation of alleged wrongdoing while he was mayor of Paris, as long as he is president.

The issue of whether a sitting president has immunity has been debated for years in France, and analysts say the case creates an important precedent.

Investigators had wanted to question Chirac about several corruption scandals. The president had always argued he was protected by presidential immunity.

At an earlier hearing before the Court of Cassation, the prosecutor argued that Chirac had immunity from prosecution as a sitting head of state but could appear as a witness -- as long as he was not accused and the case did not address his term as president.

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The chief of state also must be willing to testify, the prosecutor, Regis de Gouttes, recommended.

He added that France's constitution was vague on questions of presidential immunity, and he urged the court to "enrich and clarify the explanation."

That hearing, on Friday, was an appeal of a lower court decision that said Chirac could not be called to testify.

The ruling is also expected to have implications for lawmakers, who enjoy parliamentary immunity.

Authorities are investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the Paris printer's office during Chirac's term as mayor from 1977 to 1995.

Paris prosecutors opened a formal investigation in 1997 into allegations of favouritism and misappropriation of public money at City Hall's printing company, SEMPAP.


• French President

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