Jacques Chirac was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement when he was mayor of Paris
Jacques Chirac was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement when he was mayor of Paris AFP / PATRICK KOVARIK

Jacques Chirac, who died on Thursday aged 86, was the only former French president to be convicted on criminal charges, for crimes committed while he was mayor of Paris.

Chirac was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement when as mayor of Paris he employed people who in fact worked for his right-wing political party, the RPR.

The hearings stretched from March to December 2011, some four years after he finished a second term as president, capping a political career that had spanned half a century.

Chirac served 12 years as head of state, two terms as prime minister and 18 years as mayor of Paris, before bowing out of politics in 2007 at the age of 78.

But the graft allegations dogged his later years in office and he was openly portrayed by media as a "crook".

Past catches up

Chirac managed for a time to keep the courts at bay despite losing the immunity from prosecution that shielded him as head of state, but the past finally caught up with him.

He faced charges of putting 21 aides on the city payroll who were in fact working for the Rally for the Republic (RPR) party during his long tenure as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

Another seven such jobs were deemed illegal by investigating magistrates in the western suburb of Nanterre.

Chirac, who remained popular despite the affair, did not attend the trial, after his lawyers submitted a medical report which said he suffered from memory loss and "severe and irreversible" neurological problems.

Investigating magistrates had opened a probe into Chirac's running of city hall in 1999 after receiving a complaint alleging widespread abuses, including graft, illegal party financing and destruction of evidence.

Corruption claims against Chirac became a running joke on the country's top satirical television show Les Guignols de l'info, which lampooned him as a cape-wearing anti-hero "Super menteur" ("SuperLiar").

One sketch cast Chirac and his wife Bernadette as a pair of geriatric gangsta rappers, wallowing in banknotes and thumbing their noses at the law.

Suspended sentence

But on December 15, 2011, a court handed down a conviction and gave him a suspended jail sentence owing to his age and health condition.

In their ruling, judges said Chirac's criminal conduct had cost Paris taxpayers the equivalent of 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million).

"Jacques Chirac breached the duty of trust that weighs on public officials charged with caring for public funds or property, in contempt of the general interest of Parisians," the ruling said.

The city of Paris dropped a case for damages after Chirac and the RPR's successor, the UMP, agreed to pay 2.2 million euros to cover the embezzled funds.

He was the first former or serving president of modern France to be tried, although Nazi-era collaborationist leader Philippe Petain was convicted of treason and king Louis XVI was sent to the guillotine by revolutionaries in 1793.

Chirac contested the ruling but did not appeal it, issuing a statement that said the French people "know who I am: a honest man" who worked only for "the grandeur of France and for peace."