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France prosecutors probe accusations against former president, PM

The Paris prosecutor's office on Tuesday began an inquiry into allegations against former French president Jacques Chirac [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his prime minister Dominique de Villepin over the receipt of millions of dollars from African leaders. The accusations against the two former French officials were made by a lawyer who worked as an aide to Chirac and claims to have participated in the passage of over $20 million in cash [Reuters report] from African leaders to be used as political donations. All of the alleged donations came from leaders of former French colonies. An investigation will also be launched by the Paris Bar into the actions taken by the accuser as his involvement with the passage of these funds is unethical within the legal profession. Chirac is also currently the subject of a corruption trial which the French Court of Cassation [official website, in French] ruled in May can continue, rejecting a constitutional challenge [JURIST report] brought by one of his co-defendants. Chirac is being tried for allegedly misusing funds during his time as Paris mayor in 1990. Meanwhile, Villepin, who was accused of participating in a smear campaign [AP report] against current President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French], was recently acquitted.

Other former French officials have also been accused of scandals and subjected to investigations as a result. Last month, a commission of the Court of Cassation ordered an investigation [JURIST report] into the newly appointed Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [official website], Christine Lagarde, for her involvement in a $400 million arbitration agreement with French businessman Bernard Tapie. Tapie won a settlement with state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais [official website, in French] in 2008 when Lagarde was acting as France's Finance Minister. A senior prosecutor contends that Lagarde "overstepped her authority" in allowing the arbitration to proceed because the controversy involved a state-owned institution. Furthermore, an investigation would be needed to determine whether Lagarde sufficiently probed the neutrality of one of the arbitration judges. The investigation will be ongoing for several months, after which a decision will be made about whether to send the case to trial.

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