updated 7/19/2007 6:51:11 AM ET 2007-07-19T10:51:11

Judges were questioning former French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday in an investigation into a party financing scandal dating to his time as Paris mayor, judicial officials said.

Chirac was being questioned by Judge Alain Philibeaux as a material witness, the officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The former French president was being questioned in his Paris offices in the presence of his lawyer.

The probe concerns a fake jobs scheme that was used to finance Chirac’s conservative party RPR while he was mayor of Paris, from 1977-1995. He was president from 1995 until May 16, when he turned over power to fellow conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

Last month, Chirac’s lawyer Jean Veil said Chirac would “very probably” be questioned in the case before mid-September.

Potent legal problem
The jobs scandal is the most potent of a string of potential legal problems the 74-year-old Chirac faces now that he no longer has presidential immunity.

Investigators say operatives from the RPR party were illegally on the Paris city payroll in a scheme to help finance the party, and that the equivalent of millions of dollars in salaries and fees were doled out.

The RPR, or Rally for the Republic, was later replaced by the UMP, or Union for a Popular Movement, which now dominates parliament and Sarkozy’s government.

The jobs case already has targeted several former colleagues of Chirac’s, but investigators have been waiting for years to talk to Chirac himself about how much he knew about the wrongdoing.

Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, a close Chirac ally, was convicted in the case in 2004 and given a 14-month suspended prison sentence and a yearlong ban from politics.

Under French law, a material witness falls between a simple witness and a suspect. The material witness is not formally under investigation and has the right to a lawyer during questioning, but can later face charges if investigating magistrates find “serious or concordant signs” of an infraction or a crime.

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