In a historic judgment, the former French President, Jacques Chirac (79), was on Thursday given a two-year suspended sentence for misappropriation of public funds and embezzlement.
This is the first time a French Head of State has been convicted since the trial in 1945 of Marshal Philippe Petain who collaborated with the Nazis.
Mr. Chirac who suffers from neurological problems and is in poor health was not present in the courtroom. He served two consecutive terms as President from 1995 to 2007.
Mr. Chirac's crimes date back to the 1990s when, as Mayor of Paris, he placed several of his party men and women on the public payroll in what has been described as “phantom jobs”.
Non-government organisations and lawyers who had filed the cases against Mr. Chirac said they were satisfied with the verdict.
Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for an anti-corruption association that sought a conviction, said the ruling was “historic and exemplary” He told reporters outside the courtroom: “We've seen a strong message delivered today: politicians can no longer do as they please when in charge of public administrations.”
Georges Kiejman, Mr. Chirac's lawyer, said he would consult his client about an appeal.
Mr. Chirac's case took years to come to court because as President he was immune to prosecution.
The prosecutor had asked that Mr. Chirac and nine other accused be let off but the court disagreed.
This judgment is likely to set a precedent in France and will encourage politicians to tread more cautiously.
A former Culture Minister is in detention in a high-profile corruption case linked to the payment of reverse kickbacks over a deal to supply Agosta submarines to Pakistan.
Mr. Chirac's adopted daughter, Anh Dao Traxel, a former refugee from Cambodia, said in a tearful statement:
“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.”