- Central Africa
- Corruption - Justice
Angolagate: Top French officials jailed over Angola arms deal scandal
Tuesday’s verdict in the Angolagate case rocked the foundations of Paris. Angolagate, deemed as one of the most publicised political scandals, saw the inolvement of a number of high level personalities, including top French officials, in secret arms sale to the Angolan government during the 90’s. The 6-year prison terms slapped on Pierre-Joseph Falcone and Arcadi Gaydamak, have been deemed as severe. Pasqua and Marchiani also received prison sentences. Jean-Christophe Mitterrand and Paul-Loup Sulitzer, on the other hand, received suspended sentences, while Jacques Attali and Georges Fenech were cleared.
The Paris court on Tuesday issued its verdict in the Angolagate arms trafficking case. Out of a number of 42 defendants, only 6 were cleared. Commentators were clearly surprised by the severity of the verdict after the judge has issued a heavier sentence than that requested by the prosecution.
The convicted persons, Joseph Pierre Falcone, Arcadi Gaydamak and Charles Pasqua have already announced their intention to seek an appeal. Charles Pasqua also demanded, on the same evening of the ruling, that the binding confidentiality clause, with regard to the case, be lifted, while insisting that Jacques Chirac knew about the arms trafficking during his term in office as Prime Minister.
Six years for Falcone and Gaydamak
Businessman Pierre-Joseph Falcone was sentenced to 6 years in prison, along with a committal warrant and was therefore escorted out of the court by two gendarmes. His convictions included "illicit arms trade, tax evasion" and "influence peddling". Falcone’s diplomatic immunity as Angola’s representative to UNESCO was disregarded due to the retrospective nature of the case as well as his French nationality.
Falcone’s business partner, the Russo-Israeli billionaire, Arcadi Gaydamak, also the principal defendant in the trial, was sentenced to 6 years in prison for "illicit arms trade," "abuse of public assets,” “tax fraud," “active influence peddling" and "money laundering". Arcadi Gaydamak is not serving his sentence. He has reportedly taken refuge in Israel and Russia, in order to escape several international arrest warrants. Gaydamak owns the Beitar football club in Jerusalem.
In the 90’s Falcone and Gaydamak sold arms to the Angolan regime under José Eduardo dos Santos, who was struggling with UNITA rebels. Contracts amounting to 790 million dollars (530 million euros) were signed in spite of an official refusal from France to get involved in the arms deal. Tanks, helicopters, warships, artillery shells and landmines were sold. Profits made from the sale amounted to some $ 400 million (270 million euros), thus, allowing the two partners a certain level of generosity with respect to those implicated in the affair, to enable them cover their tracks.
Prison for Pasqua and Marchiani
UMP (French ruling party) also former interior minister Senator Charles Pasqua, was sentenced to a one year prison sentence and a two-year probation for "influence peddling" and "the misuse of public assets." He is also to pay a 100 000 euro fine. The prosecutor had only requested a 3-year suspended sentence. The court also accused him of having lobbied for Angolan interests in exchange for money.
Former French prefect, Jean-Charles Marchiani, a Charles Pasqua ally, received a 3 year prison sentence, out of which 21 months will be suspended, for "complicity in influence peddling" and "the misuse of corporate assets." He was partially pardoned in February by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Probation for Mitterrand and Sulitzer
The son of former President François Mitterrand, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, was cleared of "complicity in illegal trade of weapons” charges. He however received a 2 year suspended sentence and a 375 000 euro fine for "the misuse of corporate assets." He was described as the intermediary between Falcone and the Angolan regime. He is reported to have received a whopping 2.6 million dollar (1.8 million) commission.
The novelist and businessman Paul-Loup Sulitzer, was sentenced to a 15 month suspended sentence and a 100 000 euro fine for "the misuse of public assets." He is accused of having used his influence to improve Gaydamak and Falcone’s image in the media.
Attali and Fenech
The essayist Jacques Attali, former adviser to the Elysee (the French presidency), was acquitted beyond reasonable doubt over charges of "passive influence peddling" and "the misuse of public assets." He was accused of intervening in favour of Gaydamak and Falcone, who had been affected by tax reassessments. He was paid for a micro-credit contract, the court ruled.
Former magistrate, Georges Fenech was also acquitted. Prosecutors requested a 6 month suspended sentence for "abuse of public assets." He was president of the Professional Association of Magistrates (APM) at the time.
UNITA, now a legitimate opposition party in Angola, has welcomed the decision. For them, this case proves the level of corruption during dos Santos’ rule. During a state visit to Angola in May 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had indicated that the case was purely a domestic affair, as he sought to renew cordial relations between France and Angola.