The trial of President Jacques Chirac’s closest lieutenant on financial sleaze charges has snowballed into a major affair that has engulfed France’s judiciary.
Allegations of spying, burglary and threats, combined with a bitter verbal campaign against the trio of judges who sentenced him, have tarred the trial of former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, the head of state’s protege.
Juppe, 58, was handed an 18-month suspended sentence for abuse of public funds after he employed seven people for Chirac’s party whose salaries were in fact paid by Paris town hall.
The offences run back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Chirac was mayor of Paris. Until 2001, Chirac himself was being investigated in connection with the same affair as well as other abuses of office, but he avoided prosecution after the country’s top court ruled that he had immunity while he remained head of state.
Juppe has vowed to stay in politics until his appeal is heard, a move that appears to be influenced by Chirac’s fears of a rival for his crown, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
No sooner was the sentence pronounced than Chirac’s supporters unleashed a verbal barrage, denigrating the judges as politically biased and bent on destroying a man they portrayed as decent, honest and a national asset. “0