A French court on Monday began the trial of former president Jacques Chirac [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] but immediately suspended proceedings. The trial was suspended [WSJ report] in light of claims made by co-defendant Remy Chardon, Chirac's former chief of staff, that a decision by the prosecution to dismiss the statute of limitations in the case against Chardon violates the French Constitution. The trial is a combination of two separate corruption-related cases, which accuse Chirac and nine others, including Chardon, of misusing public funds [BBC report] during Chirac's time as mayor of Paris. Chirac allegedly financed the Rally for the Republic (RPR), now renamed as the Union for a Popular Movement [party website, in French], by illegally establishing fake city positions between 1977 and 1995 for party members to collect salaries totaling several million dollars. The first day of trial was reserved for procedural matters, and Chirac did not attend. The court is expected to make a decision regarding the constitutional claim on Tuesday. Under French law, Chirac is not obligated to appear in court during any of the proceedings, but it is anticipated that he will be at the proceedings on Tuesday if the trial goes forward. The trial will be "adjourned indefinitely" if the constitutional claim is referred to a higher court.
The trial began despite the fact that the main plaintiff dropped out of the suit. Last September, the Paris city council accepted a settlement deal [JURIST report] in which the former president agreed to pay USD $741,000 in compensation for the money paid out for false jobs. In exchange, the city agreed to drop out of a corruption suit. Chirac stated that the settlement was not an admission of guilt. A French judge placed Chirac under preliminary investigation [JURIST report] in December 2009. Chirac's trial on corruption charges marks the first time [JURIST comment] a former president will have to answer to charges against him in a court of law.
3/8/11 - The court has postponed Chirac's trial until at least June to consider the constitutional challenge.