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French ex-minister questioned in 'Karachigate' inquiry

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2011-12-14

Former culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres (pictured) was questioned on Tuesday over alleged kickbacks from the 1994 sale of submarines to Pakistan, suspected of having been used to fund a campaign for an ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A former French minister was detained for questioning on Tuesday as part of the long-running “Karachigate” inquiry into illegal kickbacks from arms sales to Pakistan in the 1990s, a case that continues to undermine the re-election hopes of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres was an advisor to former Defence Minister François Leotard in 1994 when a deal was finalised for the sales of French-made submarines to Pakistan. He is suspected of complicity in arranging illegal bribes that helped finalise the sales, as well as kickback in the form of commission payments that allegedly found their way back to senior French politicians.

Some of the kickback cash was allegedly used to fund then Prime Minister Edouard Balladur’s failed 1995 presidential election campaign.

Balladur claims that the money, including deposits of some 20 million francs (€3 million), came from sales of campaign T-shirts and gadgets and through gifts from party members.

Conservative Balladur lost his election battle to centre-right rival Jacques Chirac, who would remain French president until 2007.

The case has been an ongoing source of political damage for Sarkozy, who was Balladur’s campaign spokesman and a close political ally, and who is himself seeking re-election next year.

Although Sarkozy has not been formally implicated, the arrest earlier this year of two of his former close political aides, Thierry Gaubert and Nicolas Bazire, has generated a steady feed of negative headlines for the centre-right French leader.

The 2002 Karachi bombings

The so-called “Karachigate” scandal erupted when 11 French naval engineers were killed in a 2002 bombing in Karachi, Pakistan.

The attack was allegedly carried out in revenge for a French government decision to terminate bribe payments to Pakistani officials.

And the heat of the case is likely to get more intense in the run-up to next May’s presidential election.

Olivier Morice, the lawyer for the families of the victims of the 2002 Karachi bombing, told AFP on Tuesday that “the judges are only now getting to the core of the corruption involving senior politicians.”

“Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres is the first of the politicians to feel the long arm of the law,” he added. “’No doubt François Leotard and Edouard Balladur will be next.”

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was chief of staff at the Elysée presidential palace during Chirac’s first term, has told the inquiry that the commission payments from the 1994 arms sales were cancelled over suspicions that there had been illegal kickbacks.

Donnedieu de Vabres was held in custody overnight Tuesday and was due to be questioned by investigating magistrates on Wednesday morning.

Date created : 2011-12-14

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