I've already seen this movie.

French get choice of 'crook or fascist'

The Telegraph, 26 Apr 2002

President Chirac's plans for a triumphant re-election as leader of a country united against Jean-Marie Le Pen are summed up in a slogan now heard at demonstrations across France: "Vote for the crook not the fascist". Night after night across France, demonstrators deride M Le Pen, the National Front leader, as "the fascist", and the president, "the crook". Those chanting the slogan are political opponents of M Chirac who will vote for him as a protest against M Le Pen.

M Chirac has been accused of running a vast system of cash kickbacks and expense account fraud while he was the mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, and as head of his party, the Rassemblement pour le Republique.

The principal accusation is that he and his associates issued government building contracts in return for cash, which was then used to fund the RPR and M Chirac's personal expenses.

Investigators claim that suitcases full of cash were kept at the Paris town hall for unrecorded expenses and that M Chirac knew of them. They say hundreds of supporters were put on the city payroll with salaries of up to £50,000 for doing nothing. They did not even have titles or offices.

Then there are grocery bills, which show that between 1987 and 1995, the Chiracs spent £1.3 million of city money on food and wine for themselves, roughly £450 a day, not including official lunches, dinners or drinks parties. Many of the bills were found to have been badly amended. For example, a receipt for foie gras for 5,000 francs (£500) appeared to have had a "1" added, to make it 15,000 francs.

Charges that M Chirac used some of this money for himself went down particularly badly with the French public, who are inured to corruption for political ends but take a much dimmer view when it is for personal enrichment. M Chirac was accused of using some of the cash to pay for family trips to New York and Mauritius.

M Chirac has refused several judicial requests to testify about the allegations and only once confronted them in public - in a speech in 2000, when he dismissed them as "abracadabra-entesque".

France's constitutional court has done him a favour by ruling that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. But many of those around him, including senior RPR officials are under judicial investigation, and there is a constant stream of books and articles which describe his alleged corruption.

M Le Pen often calls M Chirac "a liar", "super thief", "immoral and detestable" and had hoped to confront him with his scandals during a television debate. Now that the president has refused to debate with him, M Le Pen has been denied his chance.

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