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Ex-Chirac aide gets top legal post despite protest

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Sep 13 (Reuters) The French government today appointed a former adviser to Jacques Chirac as chief prosecutor in Paris, a key post in deciding whether to probe corruption allegations against president when he leaves office.

Chirac proposed his former legal adviser Laurent Le Mesle for the job last week and the government moved swiftly to endorse the choice, ignoring an outcry from left-wing opposition parties and the largest magistrates' trade union.

The French president has been accused of involvement in several corruption scandals while he was Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995 but has enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his time as head of state.

Although he has not ruled out running for a third term in elections next spring, he is widely expected to stand down, leaving him exposed to possible charges.

Chirac's name has been raised in connection with a number of corruption investigations but he has always denied wrongdoing or any knowledge of criminal activity at Paris city hall.

The largest union of judicial officials, the USM, denounced Le Mesle's appointment as ''purely political'' and said it would damage the image of the judiciary, but government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope defended the choice.

''What we have here is the appointment of a high-ranking magistrate with unanimously recognised ethics and professional skills,'' he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

''That is what influenced the decision taken by the council of ministers. That is what must be remembered,'' he added.

The opposition Socialist Party said the move was ''shocking''.

''Today, by this appointment, Jacques Chirac is prolonging his impunity,'' Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande told reporters at the lower house of parliament.

A number of Chirac's friends and political allies have been sent to trial on various graft charges dating back to the time when the president ran the French capital.

Only on Monday, 15 politicians and officials went on trial charged with vote-rigging in a 1989 local election that confirmed Chirac as mayor.

In July a court found businessmen and friends of Chirac guilty of corruption for their involvement in a housing scam allegedly used to fund Chirac's former party while he was mayor.

Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe was convicted in December 2004 for his role in the misuse of Paris City Hall funds and banned from elected office for a year.

Chirac's former cabinet director Michel Roussin was convicted in 2005 of involvement in a kickback scandal involving contracts to repair Paris schools.

He has appealed against the ruling and the case will go back to court next month, making it one of the first cases Le Mesle will have to deal with.

Reuters LL RN0010

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