After years of claiming presidential immunity to avoid legal proceedings, Jacques Chirac is finally facing a court. Tomorrow, the former president becomes France's first former head of state to go on trial since its Nazi-era leader was exiled—that is, if the whole case isn't derailed by a last-minute protest by another defendant. If the trial goes ahead as planned, Chirac, 78, faces a month in court on charges that he masterminded a scheme to have Paris City Hall pay for work that benefited his political party when he was mayor—before he became president in 1995.
A prison term is seen as highly unlikely, but in principle if convicted, Chirac could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined $210,000. The trial fuses two separate but similar cases; one of the other defendants says the two shouldn't be combined. His lawyer says he will ask the judges tomorrow to decide whether the decision was constitutional, which could throw the whole trial into disarray. Chirac has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, insisting that France had no judicial rules laying out a framework for party financing at the time, and that the expenses were approved by the city council.