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Tape May Link French Head To Scandal

September 26, 2000

PARIS (AP) _ France’s former finance minister has admitted possessing the master copy of a videotape that allegedly implicates President Jacques Chirac in a campaign finance scheme in the 1980s, when Chirac was Paris mayor.

The development Monday quickly pushed the case of alleged illicit campaign financing from a tawdry tale, recounted in a videotape by man who died last year, to an affair of state.

Like a voice speaking from the grave, the self-described former ``banker″ in the scheme, Jean-Claude Mery, alleged in the video that Chirac’s conservative Rally for the Republic party was at the center of a system set up to pump money from contractors in the Paris region. Mery died last year.

With word of former Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s involvement, Chirac telephoned Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on Monday demanding that potential evidence concerning the affair be turned over to judicial authorities. Strauss-Kahn is a leading Socialist.

Jospin’s office convened a crisis meeting with key ministers, and later announced that, in keeping with Chirac’s request, pertinent documents were ``at the disposition of the judiciary.″

Jospin also called on Strauss-Kahn to explain what happened.

The scandal broke on Thursday with publication in the daily Le Monde of Mery’s posthumous account of how Chirac’s party, along with other parties, allegedly pocketed illegal funds obtained from fixed public construction jobs in the Paris region.

At one point in the transcript, Mery describes handing over $649,000 in cash in 1986 to a Rally for the Republic official, in the presence of Chirac, who was Paris mayor at the time.

Chirac, who served as Paris mayor for 18 years until assuming the presidency in 1995, issued a fierce denial in a Thursday television broadcast, calling the allegations ``lies.″

The tables turned over the weekend, with a report by the news weekly L’Express that Strauss-Kahn possessed the master copy of the tape.

Strauss-Kahn admitted Monday that he had the video but had never looked at it and told Le Monde he did not know where he had placed it.

The video was given to him in April 1999 by lawyer Alain Belot, who said that ``this could interest you,″ the former minister told Le Monde.

``But he never said the president of the republic was being implicated,″ Strauss-Kahn was quoted as saying.

The political stakes in the scandal are high. Both Jospin and Chirac are expected to be the likely candidates in 2002 presidential elections.

Last year, France’s constitutional court, debating on another corruption case, ruled that Chirac can’t face criminal charges as long as he is president.

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