A judge filed preliminary charges against former President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday in a probe of suspicions that people were given fake jobs while he was mayor of Paris, his lawyer said.

The judge placed Chirac under formal investigation for suspected embezzlement or misuse of public funds, the attorney, Jean Veil, said after the investigating magistrate questioned Chirac for nearly four hours.

The case is one of several hanging over Chirac, who had kept investigators at arm's length while he was president by using the immunity that comes with the post.

Under French law, preliminary charges mean the investigating judge has determined that there is strong evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It gives the investigator time to pursue the probe before deciding whether to send the suspects for trial or drop the case.

Chirac became the 21st suspect to face preliminary charges in the probe. The investigation centers on whether Paris City Hall, under Chirac's tenure, was paying the salaries of people who in fact were not working for it.