French ex-PM Balladur should get suspended sentence: prosecutors

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Paris (AFP)

Prosecutors in the corruption trial for former French prime minister Edouard Balladur on Tuesday called for him to be sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term.

They said the 91-year old, tried on charges he used kickbacks from 1990s arms deals to help finance a presidential bid, should also pay a fine of 50,000 euros ($60,000).

Balladur's former defence minister Francois Leotard, also on trial at Court of Justice of the Republic, which hears cases involving ministerial misconduct -- should get a two-year suspended sentence and a 100,000-euro fine for being "much more implicated" in the alleged kickbacks than his former boss, they said.

Neither was in court to hear the prosecutors' closing statement.

The conservative ex-premier is one of a long list of senior French politicians pursued for alleged financial wrongdoing, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Balladur and Leotard, 78, were charged in 2017 with "complicity in the misuse of corporate assets" over the sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia between 1993 and 1995.

Investigators discovered an estimated 13 million francs in kickbacks from the deals, now worth some 2.8 million euros after accounting for inflation.

A large chunk of the money is suspected to have been funnelled to Balladur's 1995 presidential bid, while he was serving as prime minister in the final years of Francois Mitterrand's presidency, in a case known as the "Karachi affair".

In particular, the inquiry found a cash injection of 10.25 million francs -- mostly in 500-franc bills -- just as Balladur's team was scrambling after his defeat in the first round of voting.

Balladur, who also has to answer to a charge that he concealed the crimes, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the 10 million francs came from the sale of T-shirts and other items at campaign rallies.

The claims came to light during an investigation into a 2002 bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, that targeted a bus transporting French engineers.

Fifteen people were killed, including 11 engineers working on the submarine contract, and the Al-Qaeda terror network was initially suspected of the attack.

But the focus later shifted to the submarines deal as investigators considered whether the bombing may have been revenge for Chirac's decision to halt commission payments for the arms deals shortly after he beat Balladur in the presidential vote.

Leotard is accused of having created an "opaque network" of intermediaries for the contracts signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.