A French court has convicted former President Jacques Chirac of corruption in a trial that made history by producing the first conviction of a French former head of state since the World War II era.
Chirac was found guilty of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence.
The charges dated back to Chirac's time as mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995.
The criminal court in Paris convicted Chirac over the creation of ghost jobs on the payroll of the city of Paris and the nearby town of Nanterre for members of Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) party.
The court said Chirac’s "guilt results from long-standing and reiterated practices" of illegal party financing.
It also said that when determining the sentence, it took into account Chirac's age, health, and status as a former head of state between 1995 and 2007.
The 79-year-old Chirac has denied all the charges.
The former president, whose doctors says suffers from memory lapses, was not in court for the verdict.
His lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told reporters he would consult with his client about whether he wished to appeal the verdict "on principle."
What I hope is that this judgment won't change in any way the profound affection which the French people legitimately keep toward Jacques Chirac.
"Given the small number of contracts which have been recognized as against the law, this trial was probably not necessary after so many years," Kiejman said. "What I hope is that this judgment won't change in any way the profound affection which the French people legitimately keep toward Jacques Chirac."
Chirac's Vietnamese-born adopted daughter, Anh Dao Traxel, fought back tears as she lamented the ruling, saying: "The justice system has been very severe."
Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for the French anticorruption group Anticor, which had argued against Chirac as a civil party to the case, expressed satisfaction with the verdict.
"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," Karsenti said. "So I think it's a historic and extremely important decision for the future of French democracy."
A spokesman for the Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, said the verdict was late but "a good sign for French democracy."
It was the first guilty verdict against of a former French head of state since Marshall Philippe Petain, the leader of the wartime Vichy regime, was found guilty in 1945 of collaborating with the Nazis.
If Chirac decides not to appeal, today’s verdict marks the end of a long legal drama.
The allegations against him arose while he was president, but at the time he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
The trial finally went ahead in September, with the state prosecution unusually requesting that the case be dropped.
Chirac was tried alongside nine alleged accomplices. Two were cleared; seven others were convicted.
In 2004, France's current Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was convicted in the same case and given a 14-month suspended sentence.
Chirac polls as one of France's most popular figures. During his tenure, he led France into the shared euro currency and strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Written by Antoine Blua, with agency reports