Chirac mentally unfit to attend corruption trial, says doctor

 

FRANCE’S FORMER president Jacques Chirac is unlikely to appear in court when his corruption trial gets under way this week after his medical team said he was mentally unfit to attend.

Mr Chirac will become France’s first postwar head of state to be tried on criminal charges when hearings begin tomorrow into claims that he misused public funds by creating fictitious jobs for allies while he was mayor of Paris.

His advisers had said as recently as last Friday that he would attend key phases of the trial, but his doctor wrote to the court this weekend saying he was not capable of taking part because of his failing memory.

In the letter, cited by the Journal du Dimanche, the doctor said the 78-year-old was suffering from a neurological condition with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. He was unfit to answer questions about his past, the doctor said, but believed the trial should go ahead without him.

Mr Chirac, who lost his presidential immunity in 2007, is accused of using public funds to pay salaries to his political allies for non-existent jobs while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

Judge Dominique Pauthe will decide how to respond to the medical report when the trial opens with a procedural hearing today.

His options include asking for another medical opinion, a postponement or dropping the case altogether.

Mr Chirac was photographed on holiday in Brittany and the south of France this summer and still receives guests from the political world at his Paris apartment, but his mental acuity has been the focus of speculation for more than a year.

“His reactions aren’t as quick as they once were,” Christian Jacob, leader of the ruling UMP party group in the French National Assembly, said yesterday.

If found guilty, Mr Chirac could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of €150,000.

The original plaintiff, the City of Paris, withdrew its complaint after Mr Chirac and the UMP between them agreed to pay more than €2 million in compensation to city hall.

Mr Chirac denies any wrongdoing, however, and said recently he was looking forward to his day in court.