- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

PARIS The glittering military parade prepared with minute precision for the Bastille Day festivities this weekend will give only a brief respite from the scandals and revelations plaguing French political life.

Shortly after tanks stop rolling along the Champs Elysees on Saturday, conservative President Jacques Chirac is expected to explain to the nation in a televised interview why and how he paid the equivalent of $310,000 in cash for airline tickets for himself, his family and close associates while he served as mayor of Paris.

Left-leaning legislators, who control the National Assembly, are demanding to know where the money came from and whether it was reported in his income-tax return.

As president of the republic at least until next year's elections Mr. Chirac is immune from prosecution except for high treason.

But Paris prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dintilhac, who launched the investigation, claims there should be no obstacle to summoning the president "as a witness."

Mr. Chirac's supporters are counterattacking with charges against the governing Socialists, accusing them of a variety of misdeeds, including a massive and uncontrolled abuse of public funds.

Under the present government, wrote the conservative daily Le Figaro, "the media, the universities and various associations were colonized by the left and became repositories of its ideology."

Among the most prominent targets of the conservatives are "secret funds" apparently lavishly used by members of the government and never accounted for in detail.

Premier Lionel Jospin has ordered an inquiry into the use of such funds by senior politicians but has given no indication that the practice will stop. The funds, he wrote in a letter to the Cour des Comptes, France's main auditing, body, "should be managed rigorously and attentively."

While Mr. Jospin appears to be taking aim at Mr. Chirac's previous spending, reportedly financed by a mysterious slush fund, the conservatives want to know about the money handled by various Cabinet members.

Asked in a radio interview how she used her secret funds, Elisabeth Guigou, minister of employment and solidarity, replied that she paid bonuses to members of her staff "who work more than 80 hours a week."

Guy Baret, a conservative political commentator, promptly pointed out that Mrs. Guigou was a fervent advocate of the recently adopted 35-hour week, a measure that involves some government subsidies to companies forced to increase the number of their employees.

Mrs. Guigou had no explanation why she did not hire more personnel for her ministry something she encourages private enterprises to do. The bonuses she pays are free from social security or any form of taxation or indeed declaration.

Finally, former conservative Interior Minister Charles Pasqua unleashed a bitter broadside at the government for plunging France into a financial crisis by adopting the euro, which during the past 18 months has lost 25 percent against the dollar, pulling down the French franc, which is being used until the end of this year.

The euro, wrote Mr. Pasqua in Le Figaro, can hardly be a factor in world stability because its fall has destabilized the economies of many of France's trading partners.

He concluded that the government had failed to explain that adoption of the euro would lead to a federal system, further limiting France's independence and economic decision making.

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