Lawyers Say French ex-President Chirac Not to Attend Trial

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Former French president Jacques Chirac will not attend his corruption trial opening in Paris on Monday on medical grounds, his lawyers said Saturday.

At Chirac's request, the lawyers said, they submitted a letter from their client to the presiding judge on Friday, together with a copy of his medical file.

"In the letter, president Chirac indicated to the court his wish to see the trial proceed to its end and his willingness to assume his responsibilities, even though he is not entirely capable of taking part in the hearings. He has therefore asked his lawyers to represent him and speak for him in these hearings," the lawyers said in a communique.

There had been speculation about the 78-year-old's state of health, who was said to have been tired when he arrived on holiday in Saint Tropez in the south of France.

His son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux said Saturday Chirac's health "has been getting worse for several months" and he "no longer has the memory" to attend the court hearings.

"Yes, his health has been getting worse for several months, so he cannot attend the trial in humane and dignified conditions," he said.

"For his family this is very painful," he added.

Salat-Baroux said that "anybody facing trial would have asked that the debate stop" but "Jacques Chirac does not want this to happen under any circumstances".

"If the trial stopped, the French would think that there are two legal systems -- one for the powerful and one for the weak".

"As a statesman, a former head of state, he believes that he must meet higher standards than others," added Salat-Baroux who was chief of staff at Chirac's Elysees office.

The charges relate to Chirac's time as Paris mayor in the 1990s.

He stands accused of embezzling public funds to pay people working for his party ahead of his successful 1995 election bid.

Chirac enjoyed immunity from prosecution as president from 1995 to 2007, but the case, which has already seen current Foreign Minister Alain Juppe convicted, has finally caught up with the former head of state.

Chirac, best known internationally for his opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has been linked to a series of corruption scandals but has never been convicted.

He is the first French former head of state to face criminal charges since the leader of the collaborationist wartime regime, marshal Philippe Petain, was convicted of treason after World War II.

If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros ($213,000).

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