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Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for the anti-corruption group Anticor, which had argued against Chirac as a civil party to the case, said the reverberations could be widespread for France’s political elites.

“This is a strong message from the court — a message to all politicians of responsibility. It’s also proof of a mature and transparent democracy that is today able to make a distinction and try a former president,” Mr.  Karsenti said.

“I see it as a historic and very important decision for the future of French democracy,” he said.

The latest baring of France’s underworld of back-room cronyism, corruption and political wrongdoing could loom large in voters minds as the French cast ballots in presidential and legislative elections next year.

The party that succeeded the RPR, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, and the opposition Socialist Party have seen their share of scandal recently. Two longtime Sarkozy allies have been targeted since September in a case of suspected kickbacks in a 1990s French defense deal with Pakistan. Mr. Sarkozy served as budget minister at the time, but his office and allies insist he was not involved.

In Thursday’s ruling, the court found that 19 totally or partially fake jobs were created to benefit Chirac. “The case and the debates established that Jacques Chirac was the initiator and principal author of crimes of abuse of trust, embezzling and illegal conflict of interest,” the ruling said.

A career politician, Chirac was a debonair master of the workings of public office. He modeled himself after longtime French leader Charles de Gaulle and was nicknamed “Le Bulldozer” early in his career for his determination and ambition.

France’s last leader with memories of World War II, Chirac was the first to acknowledge the nation’s responsibility for the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust. But he struggled to achieve reforms to the regulated economy and failed to defuse tensions between police and minority youth that exploded into riots in 2005.

Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.