Jacques Chirac trial: more symbolic than meaningful?

By Emma Brooks

On Monday 5th September, former French President Jacques Chirac was set to face a trial based on accusations of corruption during his time as mayor of Paris. As this article is written, the trial has started but without the presence of the accused, as it would seem that his mental health is not at its best.

Mr. Chirac is accused of corruption, for having created 28 fake jobs during his time as mayor of Paris (1977 – 1995), paying members of his party for these non-existant jobs. He is, as it is said so dramatically, the first French former head of state to be put on trial since Maréchal Pétain at the end of World War Two. Indeed, when put like that it seems very impressive. But sadly, the reality is quite different.

Jacque Chirac’s involvement in the creation of the fake jobs and his corruption, has long been known by the public and caricatured by people such as Plantu, French comedians “Les Inconnus”, the television show “Les Guignols” and many more. But this is the first time that he is being held publicly accountable for his actions, as he enjoyed immunity during the full time of his presidencies.

However, at the same time that the trial was due to start, it was made apparent that Mr. Chirac was no longer fit to attend the trial, as he suffered from a mental illness similar to Alzheimer’s disease, making it impossible for him to reliably answer questions about the past. It would seem that not only does he no longer remember things, but he is not even aware that he is ill. And who would want to subject a poor old man, clearly frail and suffering, to the difficulty of a trial?

Though I am certain that Mr. Chirac is indeed ill given his relatively old age, it nevertheless seems strangely convenient that by the time they had finally decided to put him on trial, and go ahead with the whole process, he is suddenly ill. There is something about heads of state or prominent politicians managing to avoid the penal system, that somehow makes us feel that we are being cheated. Just as Hosni Mubarak and Ratko Mladic, Jacques Chirac has entered the hall of former politicians to be too ill to face their fate.

One has to wonder therefore, if there is much purpose in holding these trials in the first place. Of course, the idea is that no one is immune and that even politicians are ordinary people just like the rest of us, who should therefore have to face justice if and when necessary. It is a noble thought and a noble action to try to do so, but it seems to have failed in so many instances that it begins to seem like a bit of a farce.

Is it done purely for symbolic reasons? Is it done to boost the general mood and give us the fake impression that these people will pay for what they have done? Will we ever see a former politician or President be sentenced to jail and fined for their actions unless they are an enemy of the United States? Though we would like for it to be possible, it seems that it is not something we will often see.

It could be that the institutions, the court, the judges and lawyers, even the accused themselves all generally intend to go ahead with the trial. It could be possible that the system genuinely intends to prosecute and sentence any single person who is found guilty of their actions. And as mentioned before, this is a very honorable system to be part of. However, it could also be that the lawyers of these political figures are clever and figure that being diagnosed with an illness is the best way to save the accused the hassle of going through a trial.

After all, we might not have liked them whilst they were President, or Prime Minister, but they are still emblematic and sometimes endearing public figures. Once we have kicked them out of government, we find time to reminisce about the time when they did such and such good thing for the country, and think about how they weren’t all that bad. And now that they are old(er) and frail, why don’t we just let them rest in peace a little and forget all about that nasty story about corruption?

As I sit and read The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo, I can’t help but feel that these trials are a little meaningless, whilst other people around the world get condemned for much less, or worse – when innocent.


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