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Latest update: 19/04/2010
French political veteran Pasqua back in court on corruption charges
Senator Charles Pasqua (pictured), renowned for his fiery temperament and talent for ducking the sword of French justice, is back in court on three separate charges of corruption while serving as Interior Minister in the 1990s.
By FRANCE 24 (text)
French Senator Charles Pasqua, 83, is back in court facing corruption charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 10-years.
The allegations are only the latest in a formidable list of charges against the former minister of the interior, and which could prove embarrassing to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Pasqua insisted he was innocent on his first day in court, saying he was unaware of any bribe received by his former colleagues.
"An interior minister's days are tough and there is not always much time to spend examining the details. That is not one's role", said Pasqua
Even if Pasqua is found guilty, it is unlikely he will ever see the inside of a French prison cell while he continues to enjoy immunity as a French senator.
From Monday, France’s Cour de justice de la Republique, a special tribunal that only judges the country's lawmakers, will consider three separate charges of corruption involving Senator Pasqua.
These incidents, the court was told, took place during Pasqua’s second tenure as Minister or the Interior from 1993 to 1995.
Corporate bribes, casinos and political donors
The first case involves an alleged 790,000 euro bribe paid out by French energy giant Alstom in 1994 in exchange for special permission to relocate its headquarters.
The second is for kickbacks to Pasqua’s family and associates are accused of taking - totalling 8.8 million euros – from defence contractor Sofremi.
The third charge alludes to casino operating licenses granted by the former minister to friends Robert Feliciaggi and Michel Tomi. Both later gave Pasqua significant campaign donations.
Feliciaggi was assassinated in Corsica in March 2006 while under investigation.
Putting a 'spell' on his accusers
Pasqua, an influential political veteran, is no stranger to political scandal.
The senator for the Hauts-de-Seine region (near Paris) has faced numerous trials for corruption, earning himself a reputation for retribution against his accusers and eluding punishment.
In an interview with French weekly Le Point on Monday, Pasqua issued a fresh warning to his pursuers.
“I am willing to concede that I have a culture of secrecy, probably an inheritance from my youth,” he says. “But to be presented as corrupt! Those who say this know they taking risks, I could put a spell on them.”
Pasqua claims his legal difficulties "coincide" with the year 2000, when he announced his candidacy to run for the presidency against Jacques Chirac in 2002. "From that moment, a whole series of actions have been taken to implicate me,” he said at the time.
Jail after bribed weapons sales to Angola
The political establishment has suffered its own share of embarrassment over Pasqua’s recurrent court appearances.
In October, a Paris court found Pasqua guilty of bribed weapons sales to Angola in the 1990s while the African country was in the middle of a vicious civil war.
He was sentenced to a year in jail (which as a Senator he was immune from serving), handed a two-year suspended term and was fined 100,000 euros.
Pasqua hit back with a public accusation that former president Jacques Chiraq and then-prime minister Dominique de Villepin knew all about the illicit arms trafficking.
His accusations made headlines at the time, but quickly faded from the French media’s radar.
Pasqua’s most recent political tremor could make for an uneasy time at the Elysée presidential palace itself, at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy is struggling to stem haemorrhaging public support.
While the controversial senator maintains a close relationship with the president, two of Sarkozy’s closest allies are on the list of witnesses expected to give evidence. They are Claude Gueant, Pasqua’s former Deputy Chief of Staff and now the Elysée’s Secretary General, and top presidential advisor Henri Guaino.
Enduring political immunity
If the charges, past and present, against Pasqua’s are true, his rap sheet would make even mafia bosses blush, and the power that protects the senator is something they would envy.
One of the perks that come with his senatorial seat is judicial immunity that will keep him out of jail at least through September 2011, even if a guilty verdict comes down when the verdict is due on April 30.
But the wealthy region he represents – the same region President Sarkozy hails from – is likely to protect Pasqua for as long as he needs.
French Senators are elected by their region’s current leaders, not through direct elections.
As Roger Karoutchi, the top UMP representative in the Hauts-de Seine, explains: “Charles Pasqua, by definition, enjoys an affectionate relationship with many elected officials here.
“From the moment Mr. Pasqua entered his bid, his seat was almost already won because of his well established network and his 25 years of service."