French billionaire industrialist and Senator Serge Dassault was released from custody late on Thursday after a second day of questioning over an alleged vote-buying scheme that targeted poor families from immigrant backgrounds outside Paris.
Dassault was taken into custody on Wednesday by anti-corruption and fraud police for questioning over suspected vote buying in Corbeil-Essonnes, a district east of Paris where he served as mayor between 1995 and 2009.
The 88-year-old was questioned until late Wednesday, allowed to spend the night at home and returned Thursday morning to a police headquarters in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Dassault could now face a formal investigation and possible charges over the alleged corruption.
Dassault has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to prove his innocence, requesting himself that his parliamentary immunity (as senator) be lifted so he could be questioned.
Investigators suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote buying that influenced the outcome of three elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter.
Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France's fourth-richest man and the 69th-richest in the world, with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros ($18 billion).
He heads the Dassault Group, which owns the country's main right-wing newspaper Le Figaro and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation which makes business and military aircraft - including the Rafale fighter jet.
Allegations of bribing immigrants
Bechter has already been charged, as has Cristela de Oliveira, a former official in the mayor’s office suspected of giving council flats to families in exchange for supporting Dassault or Bechter.
Dassault heads the Dassault Group, which owns the country’s main conservative daily newspaper, Le Figaro, and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft (including the Rafale fighter jet).
A member of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, Dassault admits using his vast personal wealth to help residents of Corbeil, but denies any payouts were made in return for votes.
But at least two men who claim to have been paid by Dassault to help organise the alleged vote buying have described an efficient electoral machine which targeted poorer families from immigrant backgrounds.
In return for casting their ballots for Dassault or Bechter, residents were promised help with paying for driving lessons and finding subsidised housing.
In addition to vote-buying, Dassault could be charged with money laundering and misuse of public assets. Those charges are serious enough to warrant prison time.
In 1998, Dassault received a two-year suspended prison sentence in Belgium for bribing members of the country’s Socialist Party in order to secure an army helicopter contract in what became known as the “Agusta scandal”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-19