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The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris
"Jacques Chirac was probably the only European leader who wanted the Nice summit to drag on longer than it did"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 December, 2000, 01:32 GMT
Chirac denies role in kickback scandal
French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac gave an hour-long interview
By James Coomarasamy in Paris

French President Jacques Chirac has denied all knowledge of an illegal party funding scam which was alleged to have been run by his RPR party while he was mayor of Paris in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

During a live interview on French television, Mr Chirac said he would refuse to testify if he was called as a witness in the case.

The hour-long interview came amid growing calls for the French President to explain himself to the nation.

One French newspaper has called the alleged kick-back scam the biggest political scandal of the Fifth Republic.

Corrupt contracts

His RPR party is said to have used construction contracts to organise the illegal funding of several political parties.

Not only did Mr Chirac say that he had been unaware of the funding details but that he did not believe an organised kickback scheme had existed.

There have been growing calls for the president to make a public statement about the allegations since leaked details from court cases suggested he was at the centre of the scam.

But a combative Mr Chirac said if he was called as a witness in the case he would refuse to testify for constitutional reasons.

Blames media

He rounded on the media for creating what he said was a dangerous situation by reporting decade-old events as if they were new.

France, he said, was not a society where corruption reigns.

Observers say that while Mr Chirac's performance was impressive, it lacked the frankness that his enemies and some of his allies had been calling for.

It is unlikely to convince the French public that their leader is beyond reproach.

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See also:

28 Sep 00 | Europe
Cheques, lies and videotape
11 Jan 00 | Europe
Court upholds Chirac's immunity
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