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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Hungry Chirac faces book-cooking scandal
Mr Chirac and his wife Bernadette shake hands with supporters
Mr Chirac and his wife also went on lavish private trips
French President Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette may not be of waif-like proportions, but investigators have been struggling to grasp how, over a period of eight years, they could have consumed food worth thousands of francs a day.

If, for any reasons I am unaware of, there were cases of embezzlement or malfunctioning, it is up to the City of Paris to take action

Jacques Chirac
Between 1987 and 1995, when Mr Chirac was the mayor of Paris, the current head of state, his wife and their entourage spent an average 4,000 francs ($540) per day on meals - a total of 9.3 million francs.

And that does not include official banquets

According to the bills, an average 1,000 francs was spent each day on fruit and vegetables - the equivalent of 600 apples - while 400 francs was spent on camomile tea, jam and light snacks from the city's classiest delicatessens.

But officials looking into the expenditure during Mr Chirac's tenure believe embezzlement rather than appetite may explain the apparent gastronomic orgy, according to a draft report leaked to the satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaine.

The report has hit the press at an unfortunate time for the incumbent president, who is hoping to be re-instated as head of state in elections just three weeks away.

Presidential privileges

Records suggest that the goods were often paid for in cash, and that on numerous occasions bills were reimbursed more than once, sometimes up to five times, the report allegedly says.

Lionel Jospin
Mr Chirac is hoping to fend off his Socialist rival Jospin in elections on 21 April
The receipts were also doctored, according to the auditors cited by the magazine, to read considerably larger sums of money.

In one example, auditors suspect that a bill of 15,000 francs for truffles and foie gras was in fact for 5,000 francs, with an extra "1" clumsily added to the figure.

Another, for 3,739 francs, was allegedly reimbursed four times in 1994 and once in 1995, using carbon copies of various colours and changing the date.

Mr Chirac denied any wrongdoing when responding to the allegations the evening before the report appeared in Le Canard Enchaine.

"If, for any reasons I am unaware of, there were cases of embezzlement or malfunctioning, it is up to the City of Paris to take action," he told France 3 television.

He is already at the centre of a probe into suspect cash payments made for private trips abroad in the 1990s.

Investigators have been unable to force Mr Chirac to explain where he got 2.4m francs in cash to spend on plane trips for himself, his family and entourage when he was mayor of Paris, noting that even the most generous mayor's salary would have been unable to stretch to those figures.

As president, Mr Chirac has claimed immunity from questioning or prosecution.

It is imagined he would like to preserve the privileges of his current status when France goes to the polls in presidential election on 21 April.

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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