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France

Prosecution calls for jail sentences in Angolagate

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Latest update : 2009-03-04

French prosecutors called for jail sentences of up to six years for the suspected masterminds of illegal weapons shipments to Angola in the 1990s. One of the sons of late French President François Mitterrand is among the defendants.

AFP - French prosecutors on Wednesday called for a one-year jail sentence against late president Francois Mitterrand's son and six years for two businessmen in the arms-to-Angola scandal in the 1990s.
   
Wrapping up a four-month trial, prosecutors sought the toughest jail terms for Russian-born Israeli businessman Arkadi Gaydamak and his French associate Pierre Falcone for the weapons shipments worth 790 million dollars to Angola.
   
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, who was the then-president's advisor on African affairs, faced one year in prison for allegedly accepting millions of euros in "consultant fees" for the arms deals between 1993 and 1998.
   
But some of the other key players in the trial of 42 defendants faced suspended sentences, including former interior minister Charles Pasqua and novelist Paul-Loup Sulitzer.
   
Prosecutors also called for fines of five million euros (6.4 million dollars) against Gaydamak and 375,000 euros against Falcone, both of whom are living in Israel and were tried in absentia.
   
The arms sales began when Socialist Mitterrand was president in 1993 but continued until 1998, three years after conservative Jacques Chirac's election.
   
Prosecutors say millions of dollars were skimmed off to bribe senior French and Angolan figures, including President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.
   
In their final summation, prosecutors accused the French state of turning a blind eye to the arms trafficking to further its business interests in the oil-rich country.
   
Prosecutor Romain Victor said France allowed "illicit traffic" to flourish despite being alerted by press reports and members of its own intelligence services.
   
"Nothing happens, nobody steps in," Victor told the court. "The defence ministry only takes legal action in 2001, after being asked to by an examining magistrate.
   
"The real reasons for this laissez-faire attitude are to be found in the economic and strategic interests that lie in the background," Victor charged, saying the two chief suspects "had direct relations with French intelligence services and enjoyed powerful contacts at state level."
   
Prosecutors claim the arms shipments were illegal since they went ahead without French state authorisation but the main defendants dispute this, saying the sales were carried out by a Slovak company.
   
Last year, Falcone's lawyers produced a letter signed by French Defence Minister Herve Morin stating that the deal needed no state permit.
   
The huge arsenal -- 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters, six warships -- shored up Dos Santos' regime during its vicious bush war against the UNITA rebels.
   
Several defendants have insisted the trade was carried out in full view of French authorities but that Paris deliberately kept quiet to shore up a regional ally and protect an important source of oil.
   
The Angolagate trial has poisoned France's relations with Angola where it hopes to develop massive oil contracts, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to fly to Luanda last May to mend ties.
   
Angola pushed to have the case abandoned and the prosecutor hit out Wednesday at the "leaden atmosphere" weighing on the trial, saying investigators had been subjected to "barely-veiled threats."
   
A verdict is expected on March 4.
 

Date created : 2009-02-11

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