A key witness in the complex “Karachi affair” has cast doubt over an alleged link between a bombing that killed 11 French engineers in the Pakistani city and France’s decision to end bribes paid to Pakistan for the 1994 sale of French submarines.
It’s the latest twist in a maze-like international corruption scandal that has sent tremors through the French political establishment and seen some of France’s top public figures accused of having blood on their hands.
Michel Mazens, former chairman of private French armaments agency SOFRESA, has denied any link between bribes paid to Pakistan in a 1994 arms sale and a suicide bombing in Karachi that killed 11 French engineers in 2002. The claim by Mazens, published on Monday in an interview in French left-leaning daily Libération, directly contradicts media reports that the attack was likely retaliation against France for halting the bribes.
The “Karachi affair,”as it has been named in France, has ensnared a handful of players from the top ranks of the French ruling class: a judge is investigating whether the bribes included illegal kickbacks used to fund the presidential campaign of then-Prime Minister Edouard Balladur; the director of Balladur’s 1995 bid for the presidency was none other than current President Nicolas Sarkozy; and former President Jacques Chirac, as well as former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, are facing a civil suit that accuses them of endangering the lives of French citizens abroad by cutting off the suspected cash flow to Balladur and thus inciting the 2002 attacks.
‘No connection between the two’
In the interview with Libération, Mazens, a key witness in the case, admitted that the illegal payments were indeed stopped, but said: “The attack happened a long time after [the kickbacks were stopped]. I don’t think there is any connection between the two. I never received any information that would have made me think there was”.
The 11 French engineers killed in the Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2002 were employees of the state-owned shipbuilder Direction des Constructions Navales, which supplied the Pakistani military three Agosta submarines.
Families of the victims of the Karachi attack allege that sale commissions from the deal were used to make illegal contributions to Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign. Balladur lost his presidential bid to Chirac, who then scrapped a number of defence commissions to Pakistani military officers.
French media reports have suggested that the attack on the French engineers in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi was in retaliation for the scrapped defence commissions.
But Mazen’s latest statements to Libération appear to weaken the case against Chirac and Villepin by casting doubt over whether the attacks that killed the French workers were in fact a direct response to France’s scrapping of the arms commissions. Many analysts have already said that the link between the killings and supposed Pakistani ire over the cancellation of the commissions would be difficult to prove.
Karachi bombing: a French political scandal?
French news site publishes ‘incriminating’ documents
On Sunday, French investigative website Mediapart published dozens of documents linked to the case, including Luxembourg police reports.
Mediapart says Luxembourg authorities are investigating whether Sarkozy (as budget minister in 1994) set up off-shore company Heine to handle transactions in the submarines deal.
According to news reports, Mazens had told a judge last week that he received orders to stop the 338-million-franc (more than 51 million euros) commission wired to Pakistani officials for the submarine sales contract.
Mazens alleges that when he told Dominique Castellan – then the president of state-owned shipbuilder Direction des Constructions Navales – that the commission on the submarine contract would no longer be wired, Castellan warned that his employees in Pakistan could be endangered.
“I could tell Dominique Castellan was worried, but not to the point of fearing a criminal act,” Mazens told Libération.
French political heavyweights squirm
An al Qaeda-linked group was held responsible for the suicide car bombing outside the Karachi hotel where the French engineers were staying. But no group claimed responsibility for the attack, and experts have pointed to the existence of various Karachi-based militant groups with shifting allegiances.
Meanwhile, the high-profile French political personalities implicated in the affair have been left scrambling to clear their names. Though Villepin said last Friday that he would like to testify before a magistrate investigating the affair, Chirac has declined to comment on the issue. Meanwhile, Balladur denied the allegations of illegal campaign funding, telling French daily Le Figaro that “in this presentation of things nothing corresponds to the truth, nothing is backed up with facts".
For Sarkozy, the scandal comes at a politically inopportune time, as he has recently announced a cabinet re-shuffle in order to inject new momentum into his increasingly unpopular presidency. The French president has previously called the alleged links between the May 2002 attack and the 1995 kickback scandal a “grotesque fairy tale”.
Date created : 2010-11-22