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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 17:03 GMT
French court backs Chirac probe
French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac could have some nasty questions to answer
A French court has rejected an appeal to drop an investigation into suspect luxury trips made by President Jacques Chirac.

The ruling means that Mr Chirac, who currently enjoys judicial immunity as president, could be called for questioning if he loses the presidential election and the privileges of office next month.

The inquiry centres on a string of trips made by Mr Chirac and his entourage to New York, Tokyo and an Indian Ocean resort between 1992 and 1995, when he was mayor of Paris, which were all paid for in cash.

Mr Chirac has denied using taxpayers' money for private purposes, and has insisted the trips were paid for in cash for security reasons.

Building bribery

A former aide to Mr Chirac, Michel Roussin, had requested that the probe into the trips be terminated and for a wider investigation into bribery at the Paris City Hall between 1989 and 1995 to be halted.

Didier Schuller
The bribery scandal has re-emerged with Mr Schuller
Mr Roussin had argued that both probes should be annulled for procedural reasons.

The wider inquiry focuses on allegations that contracts were awarded to building companies in return for bribes for Mr Chirac's Rally For The Republic (RPR) party.

The issue has recently resurfaced with the return to France of Didier Schuller, a former RPR official, after seven years on the run.

Mr Schuller is alleged to have been involved in the bribery system when he ran the public housing department near Paris, and has indicated that Mr Chirac may have been involved.

It is widely believed that the re-emergence of the sleaze allegations could cloud Mr Chirac's bid for re-election.

He currently stands just behind his Socialist rival, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, in the opinion polls.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | Europe
Analysis: Crime or conspiracy?
15 Jan 02 | Europe
Analysis: How corrupt is Europe?
14 Jan 02 | Europe
Chirac judge claims sabotage
04 Sep 01 | Europe
Chirac corruption inquiry halted
20 Jul 01 | Europe
Q & A: Chirac's corruption battle
14 Jul 01 | Europe
Chirac hits back at critics
12 Jul 01 | Media reports
Chirac's 'house on fire'
28 Sep 00 | Europe
Cheques, lies and videotape
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