French court jails six over 'Karachigate' arms deal kickbacks

File photo taken on October 07, 2019 of a court sketch of the "Karachigate" trial in Paris.
File photo taken on October 07, 2019 of a court sketch of the "Karachigate" trial in Paris. AFP - BENOIT PEYRUCQ

A Paris court on Monday found three former government officials and three others guilty on charges involving millions of euros in kickbacks from arms sales to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed in 1994. The Karachigate scandal has cast a shadow over the administrations of several French presidents, from Jacques Chirac to Nicolas Sarkozy. 


The so-called Karachigate scandal (l'affaire Karachi in French) has embroiled former prime minister Edouard Balladur, who is facing trial in the coming months over charges that he used arms sales kickbacks to help fund his failed 1995 presidential bid.

Balladur has claimed that the money, including deposits of some 20 million francs (€3 million), came from the sales of campaign T-shirts and other merchandise as well as gifts from party members. The conservative Balladur lost his election battle to centre-right rival Jacques Chirac.

Those jailed on Monday include Nicolas Bazire, Balladur's former campaign manager; Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, a former adviser to his defence minister, François Léotard; and Thierry Gaubert, a former aide to then budget minister Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Bazire and Donnedieu de Vabres were ordered to spend three years in prison, with the court saying Bazire "knew perfectly well" that 10.25 million francs (nearly €1.6 million) from dubious sources had landed in Balladur's campaign accounts.

Gaubert was handed a two-year sentence as was Dominique Castellan, a former head of the international division of French naval defence contractor DCN (since renamed Naval Group).

A murky arms deal case, Karachigate dates back to negotiations between Pakistan and France for the sale of French Agosta 90B-class submarines. A contract was eventually signed in 1994 between the administrations of then Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and French president François Mitterrand.

Former French premier Dominique de Villepin, who was chief of staff at the Élysée presidential palace during Chirac’s first term, has told the subsequent investigation that the payments were cancelled over suspicions that there had been illegal kickbacks.

In 2002 a bombing in the Pakistani port city of Karachi killed 15 people, including 11 French engineers. Initially blamed on al Qaeda, there are now suspicions that the car bombing was an act of revenge after Chirac ordered the payments to stop.

The scandal would go on to shadow the presidency of Chirac successor Nicolas Sarkozy. Investigators have been examining allegations of kickbacks since 2008. 

During his presidency, Sarkozy repeatedly denied reports that he was Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign manager, denouncing the allegations as "slander and petty political manipulation". But the 2011 arrest of Gaubert and Bazire, two former close aides, generated a steady feed of negative headlines for the centre-right former leader.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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