|Jacques Chirac is the first former French head of state to be tried in court since World War II (EPA)|
Jacques Chirac, the former French president, has been handed a two-year suspended prison sentence after being convicted on two charges in a long-running corruption trial.
Chirac, who led France from 1995 to 2007, was found guilty of diverting public funds and abuse of trust over two cases in which prosecutors said he had paid members of his former party for municipal jobs that did not exist.
The cases dated from Chirac’s time as mayor of Paris from 1977 and 1995 when he built the centre-right Gaullist party that launched his successful presidential bid.
“Jacques Chirac has breached the duty of probity required for public officials, to the detriment of the public interest of Parisians,” said tribunal judge, Dominique Pauthe.
Although he himself was not in court, Chirac’s daughter was present to hear the verdict, which she said was harsh.
Christian Malard, a Paris-based journalist, told Al Jazeera that a two-year suspended prison sentence “is not that bad”.
“If it had been two years full-time imprisonment that would have been devastating and terrible,” he said.
Chirac denied the charges and his defence appeared to have been bolstered by Paris prosecutors who urged the court to drop the case against him and nine others accused in the trial.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland in Paris said: “It was an unexpected result for Chirac. The judges sent a strong message, that nobody is above the law, no matter how powerful they are.”
The case was the first time a former French president had faced charges in court since the trial on treason charges of Philippe Petain, the leader of France’s Vichy collaborationist government during World War II.
The case against Chirac was divided into two parts: the first count involved embezzlement and breach of trust in relation to 21 bogus jobs; the second related to a charge of illegal conflict of interest concerning seven jobs.
The charge sheet alleged that Chirac was the “inventor, author and beneficiary” of a conspiracy to use public funds to “support his political influence” and serve his own “interests and ambitions, or those of his party”.
Chirac benefitted from legal immunity during his 12-year presidency and could have faced up to 10 years in prison over the charges.
Several people were convicted in connection with the case in 2004, including Alain Juppe, the current foreign minister and former prime minister, who was found guilty of mishandling public funds and given a suspended sentence.