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France's Chirac absent as graft trial begins
Former French president's lawyers say he is mentally unfit to face trial involving two cases of fake-jobs creation.
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2011 22:06
A medical report submitted this week said that the 78-year-old Chirac was mentally unfit to face trial [AFP]

Former French president Jacques Chirac's embezzlement trial has opened without him attending court proceedings after a medical report said he suffered from memory loss and was too unwell to attend.

The 78-year-old Chirac, the first French former head of state to be tried since World War II, insists that the case, which started on Monday, proceed but has asked for his lawyers to represent him.

Judge Dominique Pauthe was due to decide on Monday whether Chirac should appear in court for the procedural hearing.

Among Pauthe's options, which will include asking for another medical opinion or a postponement, are dropping the case.

Christian Malard, a foreign correspondent for France 3, said there was interest in the case as Chirac was "still very popular in the country".

"He is probably one of the most popular politicians at a time when we are starting the presidential campaign eight months from now," he told Al Jazeera.

Milard said he interviewed Chirac in 2007 and realised that he had trouble defending his positions logically in conversation and was not coherent.

Chirac's legal team told the court in a letter on Friday that Chirac "no longer has the full capacity to participate in court proceedings", according to a statement released a day later.

A medical report submitted this week argued that Chirac, 78, was mentally unfit to face trial.

The report, requested by his wife, Bernadette, and written by a well-known neurologist, says that Chirac is in a state of vulnerability that makes him unable to answer questions about his past, the daily Le Monde reported on its website.

His wife denied rumours earlier this year that he had Alzheimer's disease, although she acknowledged he was experiencing problems that were either linked to a 2005 stroke or age.

Chirac, appeared physically fit when he was seen in public, photographed sipping a pina colada in the port of St Tropez.

But his mental acuity is the focus of intense speculation.

General deterioration

French media report what they describe as a general deterioration in his responsiveness, verbal agility and ability to recall facts after a small stroke suffered several years ago.

If the trial goes ahead, it will mark the first time since World War II that a French head of state has appeared in court on criminal charges, and represent a victory for France's judicial branch after years of wrangling.

The trial, which has been repeatedly delayed, involves two cases of fake jobs allegedly created to fund Chirac's conservative party while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

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

Chirac, who was president from 1995 to 2007, has denied wrongdoing.

In France, it is not unusual for defendants to ask to skip their trials for medical reasons.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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