The presidential Elysee Palace called the report unfounded and declined to comment further.

Chirac has been protected by presidential immunity during his 12 years in power. Once he leaves office, dormant investigations of scandals in his political past could be revived however. The most threatening of which is a 'fake jobs' affair at his former political party.

 

Opinion polls say Sarkozy, on an election campaign north of Paris, is the front-runner for the two-round vote on April 22 and May 6, followed by Socialist Segolene Royal.

 

If Sarkozy wins, he will push a judicial reform bill through parliament as early as July, Le Canard Enchaine reported, quoting an unnamed source close to Chirac.

 

The law would include an article requiring judges to wrap up their investigations faster, with no inquiry lasting more than 10 years, the newspaper alleged.

 

Since the probes against Chirac date back to before he assumed the presidency in 1995, he could not be targeted, it said.

 

City Hall probes

 

Then-Paris mayor, Chirac, left, speaking with 
Sarkozy, in 1981 [AFP]

Though both men come from the governing Union for a Popular Front (UMP) party, they have had tense relations.

 

Sarkozy infuriated Chirac by backing his rival, Edouard Balladur, in the 1995 presidential elections that Chirac won. Chirac did not endorse Sarkozy until last month.

 

Sarkozy has promised that he would not get involved in judicial affairs concerning Chirac if he was elected.

 

"That is not the role of the president," he said last month. "There is a justice system, and it is independent."

 

Dozens of people have gone on trial in several corruption cases that centered on Paris City Hall when Chirac was mayor from 1977 to 1995.

 

Officials said that Chirac's name first appeared in the 'fake jobs' probe in the late 1990s, when a letter was discovered in which he, then Mayor of Paris, requested a raise for a secretary who was paid by City Hall, but actually worked at the headquarters of his conservative RPR party.