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Jacques Chirac to attend trial in March


Former French President Jacques Chirac will attend a trial set for March over charges he misused public funds as Paris mayor, his wife said on Monday, denying media reports he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Chirac would be the first former head of state to face criminal charges since the Fifth Republic was founded half a century ago, but a French newspaper has fanned concern over whether his fragile health would be up to several days in court.

"He has always said he wanted to be treated as a person liable to trial like any other. He has said he would attend his trial and he will," former first lady Bernadette Chirac said.

Regarding the 78-year-old Chirac's health, she said he suffered at times from problems with his memory and with walking and hearing, which she said may result from a small stroke he suffered a few years ago, or simply from old age.

"The doctors have told him he does not have Alzheimer's disease. I believe them," she told Europe 1 radio, after the Journal du Dimanche reported that Chirac suffered from memory lapses that some of his friends feared could be dementia.

One of France's longest-serving presidents and fondly regarded by much of the country according to opinion polls, Chirac has looked drawn and frail in recent public outings, seeming to shuffle his feet along in small steps.

On Monday he told local TV reporters outside his home that he was "very well" and quipped that he hoped they were too.

The long-awaited trial of Chirac and nine other defendants over salaries paid to some two dozen "phantom employees" at the Paris town hall is scheduled to run from March 7 to April 8, pushed back from an original date of November last year.

Prosecutors say Chirac's former RPR conservative party obtained hundreds of thousands of euros in illicit financing or services via the payment of town hall wages for jobs that were fictitious or given to friends or allies of Chirac.

The saga has mesmerised France for years. If found guilty, Chirac could face a 150,000 euro ($205,800) fine and up to 10 years in prison, although in practice he would more likely receive a small suspended sentence.

Chirac was Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995, before his 1995-2007 stint as president and overlapping with one of his terms as prime minister.

The case was brought against him and others in his mayoral cabinet in 2009 after the 12 months of legal immunity linked to his office expired.
Chirac is not required by law to attend the trial, and there is still a chance his lawyers could seek to delay the process.