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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 17:41 GMT
French politicians found guilty
Former French ministers Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres (l) and Francois Leotard
De Vabres (left) and Leotard were convicted of money-laundering
A spokesman for President Chirac's political party and a former defence minister have been convicted of money-laundering in a party finance scandal.

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Francois Leotard were found guilty weeks after Mr Chirac's party leader, Alain Juppe, was convicted in a separate case.

Leotard, 61, got a 10-month suspended jail term for using a fake bank scheme to fund his former Republican Party.

Donnedieu de Vabres, an MP, was fined 15,000 euros (10,000) for his role.

Both men were convicted of money-laundering, but only Leotard was convicted of a second charge of illegal party funding.

'Common practice'

The court heard that Leotard had secretly transferred 760,000 euros (513,865) from a prime ministerial fund to finance the now defunct Republican Party.

Leotard, who has now retired from politics, said he had done nothing wrong, claiming that the practice was widespread among parties of both the left and the right.

Alain Juppe applauded by UMP MPs on Tuesday
Juppe has received party support since his conviction
Donnedieu de Vabres, a member of parliament and chief spokesman for the ruling UMP party was found guilty of helping to hide the money laundering operation.

Prosecutors believed the loan was set up to conceal the origin of funds illegally acquired for the party.

Businessman Ahmed Chaker was given a four-year prison term, with two years suspended, for his role in the financing operation. Another entrepreneur, Alain Afflelou, was acquitted.

On 30 January Mr Juppe was convicted over a scam at Paris City Hall, carried out to benefit another former party, Mr Chirac's RPR. That scandal involved putting party workers on the city payroll.

The BBC's Allan Little, in Paris, says it is only the legal immunity he enjoys as head of state that has saved Mr Chirac himself from judicial scrutiny for his alleged involvement in that affair.

Appeal

Mr Juppe is appealing against his conviction and has decided to stay on as leader of the UMP in the meantime, with the full backing of Mr Chirac and other senior party figures.

It was not immediately announced whether Donnedieu de Vabres or Leotard would appeal.

Donnedieu de Vabres, as well as being an UMP spokesman, is a former European affairs minister.

Leotard was French culture minister from 1986-88 and defence minister from 1993-95.

He led the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) - now an UMP ally - before retiring from politics in 1998 to fight the charges against him.


SEE ALSO:
Profile: Francois Leotard
28 Jun 01  |  Europe
Convicted Juppe refuses to quit
03 Feb 04  |  Europe
Timeline: France
20 Jan 04  |  Country profiles



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