FRANCE

Sentences due in 'Angolagate' trial

Some 42 politicians, businessmen and members of the Parisian elite are to be sentenced Tuesday for trafficking arms worth 790 million dollars to Angola in the 1990s.

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After eight months of deliberations, a French court is set to deliver a much-anticipated verdict on Tuesday in the so-called ‘Angolagate’ trial, in which as many as 42 politicians, businessmen and members of the Parisian elite are accused of participating in a vast arms trafficking scheme to Angola in the 1990s.

The high-profile identity of many of the accused and the sensitive nature of French-Angolan relations make the case one of the biggest business and political scandals in recent French history.

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Analysis: "Harsh sentences are likely to have a negative impact on relations between France and Angola"

The two main suspects are Russian-born Israeli businessman Arkadi Gaydamak and his French associate Pierre Falcone. They are accused of illegally shipping approximately 530 million euros worth of weapons, including 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters and six warships to shore up Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos’ regime during its ongoing bush war against opposition UNITA rebels. The arms deals bypassed a French arms sales ban with Angola, then in the throes of a bloody civil war estimated to have killed half a million people. Prosecutors have requested a six-year jail sentence for both men.


Murky deals and hush money

From October 2008 to March 2009, judges worked to untangle a maze of murky deals and hush money linking the two main accused with prominent French politicians and public figures. The arms sale began in 1993 when President Francois Mitterrand was in power and continued under his conservative successor Jacques Chirac in 1998.

François Mitterrand’s son Jean-Christophe is charged with accepting 2.6 million euros in “consultant fees” to serve as an intermediary between the arms dealers and his father’s government.

Others facing suspended jail sentences include former French interior minister Charles Pasqua and novelist Paul-Loup Sulitzer. The latter is accused of receiving 380,000 euros to use his influence in the media to improve the public image of Gaydamak and Falcone. Sulitzer has denied the charges and called the trial a “mascarade”. Pasqua, now a member of the French Senate, is accused of having received several hundred thousand euros to lobby for Angolan interests. He claims the charges against him were part of a plot to stop him from running in the 2002 presidential elections.

The oil factor

The case has threatened Franco-Angolan relations as Paris vies for direct, unrestricted access to Angola’s huge off-shore crude oil resources. In May 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to the Angolan capital of Luanda in an attempt to mend strained ties after Dos Santos pushed to have the trial abandoned. The Angolan government considers many of the documents used by the prosecution to be national defence secrets.

Despite a promise to come to France and explain his role in the sensational case, Gaydamak has remained in Israel, where he fled to avoid an international arrest warrant.

Falcone, who holds French, Canadian and Angolan citizenship, was named Angola's ambassador to the United Nations’ Paris-based cultural organisation UNESCO in 2003 and has claimed diplomatic immunity in the case.

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