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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Chirac faces Paris scandal judge
Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac enjoys presidential immunity in two other investigations
Former French President Jacques Chirac was questioned for four hours by a magistrate probing a party funding scandal from his time as Paris mayor.

Mr Chirac, 74, was interviewed as an assisted witness, which means he could eventually face criminal charges.

The inquiry is looking into a fake jobs scheme that was used to finance Mr Chirac's conservative RPR party during his time as mayor in 1977-1995.

Mr Chirac has denied wrongdoing, saying party funding rules lacked clarity.

The interview, conducted by judge Alain Philibeaux, lasted from 0915 (0715 GMT) to 1330 (1130 GMT), and took place at Mr Chirac's office on the rue de Lille in Paris's Left Bank.

This was an interview which... went ahead calmly and courteously
Jean Veil
Mr Chirac's lawyer

His lawyer, Jean Veil, was present.

"You will have noticed that this was an interview which, within a judicial context, was relatively short, it went ahead calmly and courteously," Mr Veil said afterwards.

"I believe the explanations that the former president gave to the judge were complete, transparent, delineating his role, the extent of his knowledge of events, and should satisfy the judges investigating the case," he added.

Town hall scam

The inquiry focuses on illegal payments given to members of Mr Chirac's party while he was mayor.

The status of assisted witness falls between that of simple witness and formal investigation, and implies that there is some evidence against the person questioned.

The former president's close ally and one-time prime minister, Alain Juppe, was convicted in the scandal in 2004, and banned from politics for a year.

Prosecutors said housing officials received bribes from businessmen and that some of the money went to Mr Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR).

Alain Juppe
Former prime minister Alain Juppe was convicted in the affair

In a statement published in the French daily Le Monde on Thursday, Mr Chirac said he found it "very normal" to answer questions about the party-funding affair.

He wrote that all parties had suffered from the lack of clear funding rules before 1995.

"The politicians in charge at the time acted with integrity and with the general interest at heart," he said.

Mr Veil has said his client will not face questioning over any other scandals.

Mr Chirac still enjoys presidential immunity in the investigation into the death of a French judge in Djibouti and in the so-called Clearstream affair, regarding an alleged attempt to smear Nicolas Sarkozy before he succeeded Mr Chirac as president.

The immunity does not apply to the period before he became president, when he was mayor of Paris.

Profile: Jacques Chirac
19 Jul 07 |  Europe

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