Wife of Chirac Denies Alzheimer's Claim

The wife of former French president Jacques Chirac denied press reports Monday that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and insisted he would attend his corruption trial in March.

The weekly Journal du Dimanche had quoted unnamed friends of Chirac, 78, as saying he had memory lapses and that his wife Bernadette feared he had the brain disease Alzheimer's. He had a minor stroke in 2005.

The reports questioned whether Chirac might use health reasons to avoid what will be an unprecedented trial for a former French president.

But his wife, Bernadette, said she was "scandalized" by these claims.

"It is a lie," she told radio station Europe 1. "I am scandalized by what I read yesterday in the Journal du Dimanche and I cannot accept the insinuation. The doctors said he didn't have Alzheimer's and I believe them."

"He has always said that he wanted to be treated as a person liable to trial like any other. He said he would go to his trial and he will."

Chirac is due to stand trial in March and April over allegations that public funds were used to pay ghost worker salaries to his political allies when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

A procedural hearing in the case was due later on Monday. Judges were to decide whether two separate sets of corruption charges can be heard in a single trial.

Under one set of charges, Chirac theoretically faces up to five years in jail and a fine of 75,000 Euros (105,000 dollars).

He has denied having any knowledge of corrupt payments and his lawyers have accused magistrates of political motives.

Chirac regularly polls as one of France's most popular political figures despite his name being linked to a series of corruption scandals dating from his period as mayor of Paris, although he has never been convicted.

As president from 1995 to 2007, he was immune from prosecution.

In September the Paris city council agreed to accept a payment of more than 2.2 million Euros from Chirac and his right-wing UMP party in exchange for dropping a civil suit against him.

Le Monde newspaper also raised the question of Chirac's health in a report last week and said his lawyers may ask for the trial to be postponed.

A former minister in Chirac's government, Christian Jacob, on Sunday rejected the claims as "shocking and unfounded".

"Jacques Chirac is in good shape intellectually. We recently had a long discussion about regulating raw-materials markets," said Jacob, one of several politicians to denounce the reports.

Bernadette Chirac acknowledged that her husband was ageing and had "some difficulties walking and hearing" and "sometimes memory trouble", but he could also be "dazzling".

"If my husband was suffering from this disease, I would not hesitate to say so," she said.

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