French tycoon Serge Dassault dead at 93: family

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Paris (AFP)

One of France's richest men, Serge Dassault, has died in his office after suffering heart problems, his family announced on Monday. He was 93.

The head of aviation and software giant Dassault Group, which owns the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper, Dassault was a titan of the French business world who had served as a senator and a mayor of a town south of Paris.

France's third wealthiest person -- with a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine of $14.8 billion (13.3 billion euros) -- died in his office on the Champs-Elysees on Monday afternoon, his family said.

"The family and the Dassault group will communicate shortly about the modalities for paying homage to Mr Serge Dassault," said the statement from the family sent by his company's press office.

The Dassault Group holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft including France's Mirage jet and its most cutting-edge modern-day fighter, the Rafale.

The group was founded by Dassault's father Marcel, an aeronautical engineer and inventor who developed a propeller used in French planes during the World War I.

Marcel was sent to the Buchenwald death camp by Nazi forces after their occupation of France because he refused to put his skills at the disposal of the invaders.

He survived until the death camp was liberated at the end of the war.

Arrested along with the rest of his family by the Gestapo as a teenager, Serge narrowly avoided deportation.

After studying, he worked his way up through the family business before finally succeeding Marcel and taking the helm of Dassault Industries in 1986 at the age of 61 -- when most people are thinking of retiring.

He took over in the teeth of opposition from the then French government amid doubts that he was able to run a high-technology business which faced severe American competition in the military planes market.

As well as his business interests, he pursued a political career like his father -- leading to scandal and convictions.

In February this year, Dassault was only spared jail because of his age after being convicted of tax fraud for hiding millions of euros in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Virgin Islands.

He was instead fined 2 million euros and barred from holding elected office for five years.

In April 2014, he was also charged with vote-buying, complicity in illegal election campaign financing and exceeding campaign spending limits over his terms as mayor in the Parisian suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes.

The case revealed a shocking series of allegations including extortion, cash circulating in plastic bags and even shootings.

Dassault was mayor of the town from 1995 to 2009.

In 1998, Dassault received a two-year suspended prison sentence in Belgium for bribing members of the country's Socialist Party to win an army helicopter contract in what became known as the Agusta scandal.