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Chirac found guilty of embezzlement

Former French president Jacques Chirac has been given a two-year suspended jail sentence for embezzling public funds.

Anti-corruption crusaders, long frustrated by dirty dealings in the French political machine, rejoiced at the conviction of Chirac, a savvy world diplomat and pillar of France's ruling establishment for decades.

He is the first former French head of state to face prosecution since the Second World War era.

But the 79-year-old former leader did not take part in the trial, after doctors determined that he suffers severe memory lapses.

The Paris court said it had found Chirac guilty in two related cases involving fake jobs created at the RPR party, which he led during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris mayor.

He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust and illegal conflict of interest.

Chirac repeatedly denied wrongdoing. It took years to get him to trial because he enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 1995-2007 presidential tenure, during which he led France into the euro currency and became the global champion of opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The court said it took into account his age, health and status as a former head of state when determining the sentence.

Unusually, the prosecutor had requested that Chirac and the nine other defendants in the complex two-part case be acquitted, saying not enough evidence proved intentional corruption. The court disagreed, saying his guilt results "from long-standing and reiterated practices" of illegal party financing.

Chirac's adopted daughter fought back tears as she lamented the ruling. "The justice system has been very severe, but this is a fair and independent justice system. For the family, it's a great pain we have to accept," said Anh Dao Traxe. "I think this decision is too, too severe for him and our family has more than ever to show solidarity and be supportive, for his health for the rest of his life."

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