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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Cheques, lies and videotape
Reporters try to get a picture of Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaving his home
Reporters try to get a picture of Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaving his home
Our correspondent in Paris on the political scandal that is gripping the nation.

A president who took backhanders for his party, a disgraced Socialist high-flier, Karl Lagerfeld's tax bill, and an incriminating videotape from the dead.

The French are understandably enough somewhat blasť on the matter of politico-financial scandals. But this one is a cracker.

It started with a bang when Le Monde newspaper published the transcript of a confession made by a property developer and senior fixer in the RPR party of President Jacques Chirac.

President Chirac
Jacques Chirac: "Connived a kickback scheme"
Jean-Claude Mery died in 1999, but three years earlier when he was under investigation for corruption he had made this tape - "in case anything happens to me," as he put it.

In it he makes the charge what everyone in France has long suspected but no-one has been able to prove - that, as mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, President Chirac connived at a massive kickback scheme to finance his party.

Incriminating videotape

Mery ran the operation, in which building companies gave under-the-table donations to the RPR in return for public works contracts, but he said Chirac was fully au fait.

Unfolding scandal
Chirac involved during tenure as Paris mayor - 1977-95

Operation run by property developer Jean-Claude Mery

5m francs of slush funds handed to RPR in 1986

Mery investigated for corruption in 1996

Makes videotape incriminating Chirac

Tape in possession of former minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Worse, he was present at a meeting in 1986 when five million francs in illegal contributions were handed over.

Chirac reacted furiously.

He called the claims "abracadabraesque," and supporters raised the suspicion that the tape had been deliberately leaked by the Socialists in order to discredit him.

Within 48 hours they were to have the dramatic evidence that allowed them to turn the tables.

A weekly magazine published the sensational news that the master-copy of the incriminating videotape was in the possession of none other than Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Karl Lagerfeld

The friend of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Mr Strauss-Kahn was a highly successful finance minister till his resignation a year ago in a totally separate scandal.

Even more bizarrely, it was reported that Mr Strauss-Kahn had been given the tape by a tax-lawyer friend, Alain Belot.

In return, the magazine reported, he had used his influence as minister to cut the massive tax bill facing one of Belot's most famous clients, fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld.

Karl Lagerfeld
Fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld: Bailed out?
Mr Strauss-Kahn had claimed, not very convincingly, that he had no idea what was on the tape and that he had lost it.

But he now faces the possibility of criminal charges for concealing evidence.

And the suspicion is universal that he acquired the video in order to exploit it against the Socialists' enemies at some later date.

Dirty deals

The French have watched events unfold and seen their worst suspicions confirmed about the nature of the men and women who lead them.

The last decade has seen a succession of revelations about dirty-dealing at the top.

Paris cafe
The French are transfixed by the scandal
Any party that had power at a municipal level or higher was affected.

But all this was supposed to have been left behind.

A law in 1990 introduced public funding of the parties, and they were to clean up their act.

What the last week has taught the French is that nothing much has changed.

The politicians live in a different world and conduct their private wars.

Never have they seemed so remote.

Never have they been held in such low esteem.

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22 Sep 00 | Media reports
Chirac fends off graft charges
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