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Ex-French leader Chirac can skip corruption trial
Judge rules ex-French President Jacques Chirac will not be ordered to attend corruption trial
By The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) ' A Paris judge has ruled former French President Jacques Chirac will not be required to attend his long-awaited corruption trial after his lawyers said the 78-year-old is suffering memory lapses.

Judge Dominique Pauthe said Monday he took into account an appeal by Chirac's defense team, and said the trial will be allowed to go ahead without the ex-president in court.

France's first trial involving a former head of state since World War II is to run through Sept. 23. It was suspended shortly after it began in March so a higher court could rule on an appeal by one of the co-defendants.



The trial involves two cases centering on the alleged creation of more than two-dozen fake City Hall jobs used to fund Chirac's conservative party while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PARIS (AP) ' Lawyers for former French President Jacques Chirac say he won't be able to attend his corruption trial as he is suffering severe memory lapses possibly related to a stroke.

The final decision will be up to the judge, but after hearing the most detailed public information yet about Chirac's health on Monday the prosecution said it would not object if he skipped the trial.

The Paris judge has several options, including suspending the proceedings to await further medical expertise, continuing without 78-year-old Chirac in the courtroom, or throwing out the case. The judge, Dominique Pauthe, retired to his chambers late Monday to make his decision.

France's first trial involving a former head of state since World War II is to run through Sept. 23. It was suspended shortly after it began in March so a higher court could rule on an appeal by one of the co-defendants.

Judge Pauthe read from a letter by Chirac lawyers saying the ex-president wanted to be heard because it would be "useful for our democracy" and show that "all people are equal under the law."

The letter, Pauthe said, came accompanied by 4 pages of medical records, including a Chirac brain scan in April.

Chirac lawyer Jean Veil told the court that Chirac suffers from "severe memory lapses" linked to an "irreversible condition." He said Chirac's condition was not a sickness but a "symptom" possibly linked to his 2005 stroke or "other origins."

Chirac's legal team had sent a letter to the tribunal on Friday arguing that Chirac "no longer has the full capacity to participate in court proceedings" ' and asking that he be allowed to skip them.

The lawyers included in the letter the results of a neurological exam, though Jean Veil, one of Chirac's lawyers, declined to give details to The Associated Press. It's not unusual for defendants in France to ask to skip their trials for medical reasons.

Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for the anti-corruption group Anticor, urged an independent medical exam to make sure Chirac's alleged medical trouble is not just an "umpteenth delay" and an attempt at "running away."

Chirac's wife, Bernadette, denied rumors earlier this year that he had Alzheimer's disease, but she acknowledged he was experiencing problems that were either linked to a 2005 stroke or his age.

The trial involves two cases centering on the alleged creation of more than two-dozen fake City Hall jobs used to fund Chirac's conservative party while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995. He enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his subsequent 12 years as head of state.

Chirac has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers said previously that he was welcoming the chance to make his case in court.

On trial with Chirac are two of his former chiefs of staff at City Hall and seven others said to have benefited improperly from the graft.

If convicted, he would face up to 10 years in prison and euro150,000 ($215,000) in fines.

The case is among many scandals to hound Chirac over his years as mayor ' including claims that he and his family improperly ate some euro2.1 million worth of food from 1987 to 1995 at the city's expense. Those cases were rejected either for lack of evidence or because they had surpassed the statute of limitations.

Many critics have decried the trappings of presidential immunity.

"This is without a doubt a two-track justice system," Eva Joly, leader of the Green Party and a former high-profile judge, said on France-Info radio Monday. "Having to wait a decade for a verdict isn't right."

While Chirac has retired from day-to-day politics, he remains a huge presence in the political landscape. The party of Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac's successor as president, has its roots in the political machine that Chirac built.

The popular, avuncular former president made headlines in June after appearing in public with Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande, and saying that he would vote for him ' which resonated as a dig against Sarkozy. Chirac's office later said it was a joke.


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