Chirac has always denied wrongdoing while mayor of Paris
The former president was accused of embezzling and misusing funds
He was mayor from 1977 to 1995
Nine others were accused of corruption
Former French President Jacques Chirac was found guilty Thursday on corruption charges stemming from his time as mayor of Paris and given a two-year suspended sentence, a court in the French capital announced.
He was convicted of breach of trust, misappropriation of public funds and illegal use of influence, the Paris Court’s press office said.
Chirac did not attend the trial, which was held from September 5-23, due to his medical condition, which doctors described as a “severe” and “irreversible” neurological problem.
In a statement released later Thursday, Chirac, 79, said that while he “categorically refuse(s) this ruling,” he would not appeal the verdict.
“Unfortunately I no longer have all the strength necessary to carry the fight for truth by myself and face of new panel of judges,” Chirac said in the statement. “I also realize that what is at stake is not only the honour of a man, but the dignity of the presidential office.”
An aide to French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Elysee, or presidential palace, would not comment on the verdict, according to the French newspaper Le Monde.
Francois Hollande, the presidential candidate from the Socialist party, said Thursday that “justice has been done, and it had to be done, so that there would be no sense of impunity.”
However, he said, he did have some sympathy for Chirac.
“Although the sentence is severe, it is both criminal and moral, and it affects him,” Hollande added, according to Le Monde.
Ecologist party presidential candidate Eva Joly declared that justice has been done.
“No citizen is above the law, if we want to reestablish trust in the justice system and democracy,” she said in a statement on her website.
She also called on Chirac to resign from France’s Constitutional Council, a body that decides if proposed laws are constitutional. Chirac and other former French presidents automatically serve on the council.
Jerome Karsenti, of the anti-corruption group Anticor, lauded the ruling as “a historic decision and extremely important for the future of democracy. It’s a message to all politicians.”
Chirac was mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, before he became president.
Chirac, now 78, had immunity from prosecution during the 12 years he was president of France, from 1995 to 2007.
He was accused – along with the other defendants – of using public money to pay people to work for his political party, the RPR, and to pay others to perform jobs that did not really exist.
Former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe was sentenced in December 2004 for his role in the affair.
After Chirac left office as president, he made it known he was available to answer any questions on the matter. He always denied wrongdoing.
The city of Paris dropped a civil suit against Chirac after he and his party paid back about $3 million.
Some in France praised the court’s decision.
“Finally, the justice of the Republic has come,” said a post from Pierre-Marie Muraz on Le Monde’s website.
It shows that “no, we are not a banana republic, but a democracy, and proud of it!”
Others were not pleased.
“Who are we kidding? Let’s review: Politician and union leaders have flouted the country’s rules for years, enriching themselves and betraying the trust of their citizens, and when 20 years later we relax, we hand out a penalty or a suspended sentence, a certain political class and the complacent media congratulate themselves on the exemplary justice!” posted someone with the user name “pas dupe” – which means “not fooled” in English.