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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Chirac faces cash payments probe
Jacques Chirac
Chirac: 'Brown envelopes' paid for flights
French President Jacques Chirac is facing an official probe into why he paid cash for 20 foreign trips made when he was Paris mayor in the 1990s.

A French website said a total of 2.4m French francs (240,000) had been handed over in brown envelopes to a Paris travel agency.

Judicial sources say that the judges holding the inquiry want to establish whether the cash had links to illegal commissions believed to have been paid to the president's RPR party.

Maybe the origin of the money has nothing to do with the scandals at the Paris city hall. But only Chirac or one of his aides can give any explanations

L'Express magazine
But the president's office has said cash was used "for obvious reasons of discretion and security", and insisted that nothing illegal had taken place.

It said also said the overall figure in the reports was incorrect, although a different figure was not released.

The office of prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dintilhac said he was trying to establish whether the payments complied with rules requiring payments by cheque or credit card for amounts over 20,000 francs.

According to the website of news magazine L'Express, the tickets themselves were in Mr Chirac's name, but the bookings were made using a false name and address.

A Concorde flight, taking him and his family to New York, cost 12,000 - again handed over in cash. Japan, the United States and Mauritius were other destinations, said the site.

The magazine says the travel agency which handled the bookings, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, was raided by police on 15 June.

We are surprised that questions are being asked, and we are indignant at the way this news has been exploited

Elysee Palace statement
"Of itself, the payment in cash for these trips is not illegal," L'Express said.

"Maybe the origin of the money has nothing to do with the scandals at the Paris city hall. But only Chirac or one of his aides can give any explanations."

Judicial sources have confirmed that a total of 20 flights taken by Mr Chirac, his family and staff are under investigation.

Three investigating magistrates have reportedly asked the prosecutor's office for advice on whether to try to summons Mr Chirac as a witness.


He has already refused to testify at one inquiry into alleged illegal party funding, claiming immunity as president.

Mr Chirac has faced a number of claims that his 18 years as Paris mayor was tainted by sleaze.

Moves to impeach the president have also been started by his opponents.

Mr Chirac has denied the allegations, which are seen as a possible issue in next April's presidental election - when Mr Chirac is expected to battle Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to retain the presidency.

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See also:

21 May 01 | Europe
Chirac faces impeachment bid
26 Apr 01 | Europe
Chirac probe dropped
29 Mar 01 | Europe
No-show Chirac faces press anger
28 Mar 01 | Europe
Chirac refuses court summons
28 Sep 00 | Europe
Cheques, lies and videotape
11 Jan 00 | Europe
Court upholds Chirac's immunity
19 Mar 01 | Europe
Chirac's accidental victory?
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