FRANCE: France jails 'Angolagate' power players

Publisher Name: 
The Times Online (South Africa)

Russian-Israeli tycoon Arkady Gaydamak was convicted in absentia for
organising the 1990s arms sales and sentenced to six years in jail at
the trial that exposed a ring of corruption at the highest levels of
Paris politics.

The huge Soviet-made arsenal that fuelled Angola's grim civil war
included 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12
helicopters, and six warships and was worth 790 million dollars.

Only six of the 42 defendants were acquitted in the trial dubbed
"Angolagate" that began last October after years of complex

"Rarely have we reached such levels in the organisation and the
dissimulation of criminality generating considerable profits," said
judge Jean-Baptiste Parlos as the verdicts were handed down.

He described Gaydamak, 57, as someone who "behind the mask of worthiness... scoffs at borders, laws and justice."

French businessman Pierre Falcone, 55, was also sentenced to six
years' jail for his role in the illegal trade and was immediately taken
into custody by police at the courtroom, despite his plans to appeal.

Ex-interior minister Charles Pasqua, 82, was ordered jailed for a
year, plus two more years suspended, and fined 100,000 euros (150,000
dollars). Now a French senator, he was not in court but his lawyers
said he intends to appeal.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, 62, who was an advisor on Africa to his
president father, was given a two-year suspended sentence and a
375,000-euro fine for receiving embezzled funds from the illegal arms
sales to Angola.

He accepted millions of euros in "consultant fees" on the sale of
the weapons to President Eduardo Dos Santos's regime for use in the
1979-2002 bush war against UNITA rebels.

The arms originated in the former Soviet bloc and were sent to
Africa in breach of French law through a French-based firm and its
eastern European subsidiary.

Sales began when Socialist president Mitterrand was in power in 1993
and continued until 1998, three years after conservative Jacques
Chirac's election.

Although no Angolan officials were indicted, court papers alleged
that Dos Santos and his inner circle received millions of dollars in

Angola pushed to have the trial abandoned, and Sarkozy was forced to
fly to Luanda in May 2008 to mend ties strained by the case.

The trial saw judges struggling to make sense of a labyrinth of
murky deals linking French politicians, businessmen and public figures
and a massive arms shipment to a war-torn African country.

Several defendants insisted the trade was carried out in full view
of French authorities but that Paris kept quiet to shore up a regional
ally and protect an important source of oil.

Despite a promise to come to Paris and explain his role, Gaydamak remained abroad and is believed to be currently in Moscow.

The court heard that he used his contacts in Eastern Europe to get
his hands on the Soviet-designed weapons that were shipped to Luanda.
He was convicted on counts of selling arms, influence peddling and
money laundering.

Falcone, who holds French, Canadian and Angolan citizenship, was
named Angola's ambassador to the United Nations Paris-based cultural
organisation UNESCO in 2003 and attempted to claim diplomatic immunity
in the case.

He was convicted for influence peddling, arms sales and embezzlement, and Pasqua for influence peddling.

Right-wing politician Jean-Charles Marchiani was sentenced to three
years in prison, with 21 months of that to be suspended, for complicity
in influence peddling and embezzlement.

The French financier and best-selling author Paul-Loup Sulitzer got a 15-month suspended sentence for receiving embezzled funds.

Jacques Attali, a former advisor to the late president Mitterrand, and the magistrate Georges Fenech were acquitted.

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