The secrets behind a corruption scandal threatening French President Jacques Chirac's party could lie in Switzerland.This content was published on February 7, 2002 - 16:57
After seven years as a fugitive, Didier Schuller, a former senior official of Chirac's Rally of the Republic (RPR), returned to Paris on Tuesday, threatening to tell what he knows about an illegal fundraising scandal allegedly operated by the party. He is being detained by French police.
Schuller has admitted taking kickbacks from construction firms in return for lucrative contracts to build low-cost housing and then channelling this money into RPR coffers.
According to Schuller's son, Antoine, who spoke to swissinfo last weekend, the money passed through his late grandmother's bank accounts in Switzerland.
The French daily, Le Figaro, confirmed this. It said 14 million French francs (SFr 3.5 million) was deposited at a branch of Credit Suisse in Zurich, while another FF20 million were placed in a different Swiss account.
A Geneva-based fund manager, named as Jacques H, apparently managed this money. In 1997, he was charged with mismanagement following the suspicious bankruptcy of his company.
Schuller reportedly lost SFr3 million in the affair. Other personalities who lost money as a result of the bankruptcy include the singer, Petula Clark, and the tennis player, Henri Leconte.
The fund manager, who was released on bail four months after his arrest and now lives in the South of France, is still being investigated by the Geneva authorities.
Schuller, who had been on the run - first in Switzerland, then the Bahamas and finally the Dominican Republic - since 1995, is now under formal investigation for influence peddling and abuse of public funds. With the presidential election just three months away, his return could not have come at a worse time for Chirac.
Although not directly implicated in the Schuller affair, the president has been implicated in a similar kickbacks scheme while he was mayor of Paris. A Court ruled, however, that Chirac was immune from prosecution as long as he was head of state.
by Roy Probert
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