By Pascale Juilliard (AFP) – Oct 27, 2009
PARIS — A French court slapped jail terms Tuesday on the main players in a network that smuggled arms to war-torn Angola and included an ex-minister and the son of the late president Francois Mitterrand.
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 investigations.
"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.
In a television interview with France 2, Pasqua said that former president Mitterrand knew that weapons were being sold to the Angolans.
"The president was aware of the sale of arms to Angola. The prime minister was aware, most ministers too...I think the time has come to put the record straight," he said.
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 Mitterrand, a socialist, 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 kickbacks.
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. Profile of Russian-Israeli tycoon Arkady Gaydamak
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, and magistrate Georges Fenech were acquitted.
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