'Fake jobs'

Chirac will become France's first former president to face trial, after enjoying immunity from prosecution between 1995 and 2007.

But there is uncertainty over whether he will stand trial, with a prosecutor in the case who previously said there was no case against Chiras expected to appeal the decision.

Xaviere Simeoni, the investigating magistrate, has been looking into allegations that people in Chirac's circle were given fake jobs as advisers and paid by Paris city hall, despite not working for the money.

A statement from Chirac's office said Simeoni had dropped a potential charge of "forging government documents" but that the former president and nine
former aides still faced charges relating to the alleged ghost workers.

But it said Chirac was "confident and determined to establish before a tribunal that none of the jobs that remain under discussion were non-existent jobs".

'Genial politician'

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paris, Anne Elisabeth Moutet, a political commentator, said: "The magistrate is known for her independence, she is nearing the end of her career and therefore nobody can have much influence on her, she is reaching retirement age.

"I think it's a very good thing that nobody should be immune, we have a kind of transparency which exists in northern Europe and which is coming to France at last"

Anne Elisabeth Moutet,
political commentator

"This is one of three cases that can be brought against Jacques Chirac which were sort of frozen for the 12 years he was president of the republic.

"I think it's a very good thing that nobody should be immune, we have a kind of transparency which exists in northern Europe and which is coming to France at last.

"It could get messy, that's what's interesting, if it's Chirac, people are going to pay attention.

"But you know you have to realise that Chirac is popular in many ways because he's not doing anything, so he's in his capacity of 'Grand Old man,' he is personally an extremely genial politician, it's part of his appeal.

"And the French have got an element of tolerance among all these things, but they wont be against the idea that he is not above the law."

Renewed popularity

The magistrate's decision comes amid renewed popularity for the former president, with a survey conducted by French polling firm Ifop suggesting that Chirac is France's most popular politician, with a 76-per cent approval rating.

"Jacques Chirac is a personality whom the French love very much. It's a shame that, at the end of his personal career, he be put on trial," Dominique Paille, a spokesman for the ruling UMP party, said.

Although he has so far avoided direct involvement in any trial, a number of Chirac's former allies and associates have been convicted on corruption charges.

Jean Tiberi, his former deputy who succeeded him as mayor, was found guilty in May of electoral fraud dating back to the 1990s and received a 10-month suspended jail sentence.

The nine others charged in the same case as Chirac include two of his former chiefs of staff, Michel Roussin and Remy Chardon, as well as seven beneficiaries of the contracts for alleged non-existent jobs.

They include Jean de Gaulle, grandson of former president Charles de Gaulle, as well as Marc Blondel, a former head of the Force Ouvriere labour union, and Francois Debre, brother of the head of France's constitutional court.