The son of former French president François Mitterrand, Jean-Christophe, and Senator Charles Pasqua (pictured), a former French interior minister, are among those convicted by a Paris court in the "Angolagate" arms-to-Africa trial.
The two main suspects, Russian-born Israeli tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak and French associate Pierre Falcone, both received a six-year prison sentence without possibility of parole. Falcone, 55, was immediately taken into custody by police at the courtroom while Gaydamak was convicted in absentia.
Senator Charles Pasqua, a former French interior minister, has been sentenced to a year in prison without parole and a further two-year suspended jail term. He was also fined 100,000 euros (150,000 dollars). His lawyers said he intends to appeal.
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of former president François Mitterrand, whom he advised on African matters, got a two-year suspended sentence with a 375,000-euro fine for receiving embezzled funds from the illegal arms sales to Angola.
Paul-Loup Sulitzer, a well-known novelist, also received a 15-month suspended sentence.
Prosecutors said that Gaydamak and Falcone shipped 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 as it fought a vicious bush war against opposition UNITA rebels in the 1990s.
Only six of the 42 defendants were acquitted in the trial.
The arms deals bypassed a French ban on arms sales to Angola, then in the throes of a bloody civil war estimated to have killed half a million people.
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 list of defendants reads like a who’s who of French political and business elite,” explains FRANCE 24's special correspondent at the trial, Catherine Norris Trent.
The arms sale began in 1993 when President Francois Mitterrand was in power and continued under his conservative successor, Jacques Chirac, in 1998.
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand was accused of accepting 2.6 million euros in “consultant fees” to serve as an intermediary between the arms dealers and his father’s government.
Sulitzer, prosecutors said, received 380,000 euros to use his influence in the media to improve the public image of Gaydamak and Falcone. Sulitzer denied the charges and called the trial a “mascarade”.
Pasqua, now a member of the French Senate, was 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 election.
The oil factor
The case 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.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning