Jean Germain, a close ally of President Francois Hollande, was found dead in the garage next to his house just moments before the trial was due to begin in April, having shot himself with a hunting rifle.
The 67-year-old former mayor of central France's Tours had been about to stand trial for alleged complicity in a corruption case over Chinese “weddings” that took place in the picturesque Loire valley city between 2007 and 2011.
A member of his staff, Lise Han, stands accused of fraud, mishandling public funds and “unlawful taking of interests”, a specific French offence for officials who have been found to have used their position for their personal benefit.
While she was working at the City Hall on tourism issues, she was also allegedly running a private company organising the so-called wedding trips.
The trips did not include a real ceremony but Chinese couples travelled long distances and paid large sums for what were billed as “romantic wedding” packages and were photographed in wedding attire in stunning locations, including the Tours City Hall.
The mayor even posed with the couples in his full official dress.
Although she had officially resigned from her job as head of the organising group, Time/Lotus Bleu, she is accused of continuing to run the firm while at City Hall, which was in turn subcontracting the work to her firm.
The trial kicked off on Tuesday in the shadow of Germain's suicide.
“Jean Germain no longer belongs to the justice system, he now belongs in history,” his former lawyer Dominique Tricaud wrote in a letter read out at the start of the hearings.
Germain left a suicide note, saying he was being prosecuted “for political reasons”, something he found “unbearable”.
“You can be sure that I never embezzled a cent, that I did not take any money, that I always worked for what I believed to be in the best interests of the people of Tours,” the note read.