Dozens of leading French politicians, business figures and artists, including the son of the former President François Mitterrand, have been found guilty of fuelling one of Africa’s deadliest civil wars through the illegal sale of weapons worth £450 million.
Giving judgment after a trial in which prosecutors accused France of tacit backing for the unlawful arms trades, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced prominent members of the country’s Establishment to jail terms and heavy fines.
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, 62, the son of the late President, was among the those convicted of helping to supply Russian arms, including tens of thousands of landmines, to the Angolan Government during its conflict with rebels in the 1990s.
The 27-year war with the Unita insurgents, which ended in 2002, left 500,000 dead and tens of thousands maimed by the munitions.
The court was told that the 42 defendants had supplied 170,000 landmines, 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 12 helicopters and 6 naval vessels to José Eduardo dos Santos, the President of Angola, between 1993 and 1998. Diana, Princess of Wales, brought the issue of landmines in Angola to world attention with a visit to the country in 1997.
Mitterrand was given a two-year suspened jail sentence and fined €375,000 (£340,000) for embezzlement in the scandal dubbed “Angolagate” by the French press.
Charles Pasqua, 82, the former French Interior Minister, was given a one-year jail term for illegal lobbying and Jean-Charles Marchiani, 66, a civil servant, was sent to prison for three months for the same offence.
Cultural figures were also involved, with Paul-Loup Sulitzer, 63, a thriller writer, receiving a 15-month jail sentence and a €100,000 (£91,000) fine for embezzlement.
The two main defendants in the case, which has strained diplomatic relations between Paris and Luanda, were Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli billionaire whose son Alexander is a former chairman of Portsmouth Football Club, and Pierre Falcone, a French businessman.
They were found guilty of orchestrating the illicit trade after a UN embargo blocked official French weapons sales to Angola.
Gaydamak, 57, who was absent from the hearing and now lives in Russia, was given a six-year sentence for arms trafficking, illegal lobbying and money laundering.
Falcone, 55, was also sentenced to six years for arms trafficking and illegal lobbying.
Awarded Angolan citizenship and appointed the country’s Unesco representative in 2003, Falcone tried to claim diplomatic immunity. Judge Jean-Baptiste Parlos rejected his claim and issued an arrest warrant. Both men said that they would appeal.
The court was told that Gaydamak and Falcone had sought to facilitate their deals by offering millions of euros in bribes and kickbacks to influential French establishment figures. Suitcases of cash, property on the French Riviera and trips to Las Vegas were among the gifts that smoothed their way.
Mitterrand, for example, received $2.6 million (£1.6 million) in kickbacks because he was a former chief of his father’s secretive Africa cell, which oversaw relations between France and its former colonies.
Prosecutors also said that Mr dos Santos, still in office after more than three decades, along with dozens of Angolan officials, had taken millions of euros in kickbacks.
But the subplot to a trial that Angola and France both sought to derail — Luanda openly, Paris behind the scenes — involved accusations that two French presidents, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, had turned a blind eye to the trade.
Romain Victor, the state prosecutor, said that Gaydamak and Falcone “had direct relations with French intelligence services and enjoyed powerful contacts at state level.” When the French Government was first tipped off about the trafficking “nothing happens, nobody steps in”, he said. “The real reasons for this laissez faire attitude are to be found in the economic and strategic interests that lie in the background.”
It was implied that France was so keen to curry favour with the oil-rich southern African state that it allowed the weapons deals to go ahead.
Defence lawyers sought to exploit this argument, claiming that their clients had official approval for the trade. They also argued that French justice was not entitled to try the case because the arms never physically passed through France.
However, Judge Parlos said: “Rarely have we reached such a degree of organisation and dissimulation of offences generating considerable profits.”
Emmanuel Marsigny, Falcone’s lawyer, called the sentences “totally out of proportion”. He said: “By failing to look at the other people responsible, notably at a political level, the court has misread the case.”
Falcone is alleged to have used a Slovakian subsidiary of Brenco, his company, to ship weapons from Russia to Angola, with payment returning through accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Portugal.
The arms came from stocks offloaded by the Red Army after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and obtained by Gaydamak, a former KGB colonel, the court was told. Both men received commissions totalling tens of millions of euros for their role in the scandal.
Rejecting the prosecution claims, Mr Pasqua said that he would continue his fight “for the truth and the law”.
The trial has severely tested relations between Luanda and Paris, despite the efforts of President Sarkozy to maintain them. There is no suggestion that he knew of or approved the trade.
Angola, an Opec member, has some of the largest proven reserves of hydrocarbons on the continent. Total, the state-backed French oil company, has extensive operations there.
In May Mr Sarkozy flew to Angola for a state visit to mend fences with Mr dos Santos, who has reportedly been infuriated by the trial in Paris.
The key players
The ex-minister Charles Pasqua is a right-wing career politician who served as Interior Minister from 1986-1988 and 1993-95, acting as a mentor to Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy; viewed as France’s political kingmaker in the 1990s. As a teenager during the Second World War, he served in the French Resistance with his father and uncle, later working as a wine trader and private detective before settling into politics. The court was told that he had used money from the arms dealers to fund his campaign for a seat in the European Parliament, which he held from 1999 to 2004
The President’s son Jean-Christophe Mitterrand worked for many years as special adviser on African affairs to his father, François, who was then the President, acquiring the nickname Papamadit (Daddy told me). Started out as a reporter in Mauritania. Used his Élysée connections to smooth the way for the Angolan deal, receiving more than $2 million in exchange, the court was told
The businessman Arkadi Gaydamak is a maverick right-wing Russian-Israeli businessman dubbed the “Israeli Abramovich”. He once said he would rather die than accept a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. He ran for mayor of the city in 2008 while wanted by Interpol for arms smuggling, but secured less than 4 per cent of the vote after failing to master Hebrew. He has spent most of his life in France, where President Chirac awarded him the Légion d’Honneur for securing the release of two French pilots held by the Bosnian Serb Government in the 1990s. Until last month his son Alexander was the owner of Portsmouth football club
The Ambassador Pierre Falcone holds French, Canadian and Angolan citizenships, is Angola’s ambassador to the UN cultural body Unesco but is best known as an arms dealer. Tried and failed to claim diplomatic immunity in the case. He is known for his dandyish image and expensive clothes.
Click to view image: 'War in Angola'
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