Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe was found guilty Friday in a party financing scandal and declared ineligible for public office for 10 years.
The decision was a major blow for President Jacques Chirac, who loses a key political ally and possible successor.
The court in Nanterre sentenced Juppe, 58, to a suspended 18-month prison sentence. The conviction also automatically barred the legislator and mayor of Bordeaux from holding office for 10 years.
Pale and on the verge of tears, Juppe declined to speak after the verdict and left the court by a back door.
Attorney Francis Szpiner, Juppe’s lawyer, called the verdict “questionable and unjust” and said he would file an appeal — a move that would allow Juppe to remain in office.
The sentence was far heavier than the eight-month suspended sentence sought by prosecutors, who did not call for his dismissal from office. The court rejected Juppe’s request that any guilty verdict not be entered into his criminal record, which would allow him to stay in public office.
“The nature of the acts committed is intolerable to society,” the court ruled. By engaging in such actions, Juppe “betrayed the trust of the sovereign people.”
Chirac’s prime minister from 1995-97, Juppe is an institution on the political right and was seen as a likely presidential candidate in the 2007 election.
The conviction against Juppe stems from a fake jobs scheme under which Paris City Hall paid the salaries of some personnel of Chirac’s political party. At the time, Juppe was the city’s finance director under then-mayor Chirac. Juppe was also secretary-general of Chirac’s party, then called the Rally for the Republic, or RPR.
Juppe is one of 27 people on trial in the case, but his role was limited to the salaries of seven people paid by City Hall between 1990 and 1995.
Still, his sentence was among the harshest handed down. All but six of the defendants were convicted.
Juppe, who has proclaimed his innocence since being placed under investigation in 1998, said on Jan. 13 that he would end his political career if barred from public office.
Jacques Barrot, president of the UMP bloc in parliament and a former labor minister under Juppe, said he was “stupefied” and that the consequences of the decision, “seem, as they do to many French people, to be disproportionate to the charges.”
“It’s inconceivable that France be deprived of a leader like Alain Juppe, recognized in France and in the world for his qualities as a statesman,” Barrot said.