October 27, 2009 / 4:25 PM / 9 years ago

French power brokers convicted over arms to Angola

* Paris court delivers sentences in arms to Angola case

* Late President Mitterrand’s son gets suspended jail term

* Trial uncovers shadowy Franco-African deals in 1990s



By Estelle Shirbon

PARIS, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A French court convicted the son of late President Francois Mitterrand, a former minister and others who were once among France’s power elite of crimes related to illegal arms sales to Angola during its civil war.

Known as "Angolagate", the trial centred on $790 million in arms sales to Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos’ MPLA between 1993 and 1998, when it was fighting UNITA rebels led by Jonas Savimbi.

In the dock in a Paris court were 42 people accused of selling weapons to Angola in defiance of a U.N. arms embargo, or of taking payments from the arms dealers and using their influence to facilitate the sales.

The trial shone a light into a murky world of secret payments made in cash and discreet deals linking Parisian high society with one of Africa’s longest-running wars.

It was also awkward for the French government, which is keen to cultivate warm ties with Angola, a trading partner of growing importance. Some 70 French firms are established in Angola, including oil giant Total (TOTF.PA) which is the second-biggest crude oil producer in the country after Chevron (CVX.N).

The two main protagonists of Angolagate were French arms dealer Pierre Falcone and Russian-Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak. Both were convicted of illegal arms deals, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes.

Both were sentenced to six years in prison and Falcone was arrested as soon as the judge finished reading out the sentences — a process that took close to two hours due to the number of people involved. Gaydamak is on the run.



AFRICA ADVISER

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, once his father’s Africa adviser, was cleared of the charge that he knowingly facilitated arms shipments to Angola, but was found guilty of taking over $2 million from Falcone and Gaydamak to promote their interests.

He received a suspended two-year jail sentence, which means he will not serve prison time unless he commits another offence, and was fined 375,000 euros. Mitterrand was present in court to hear his sentence.

Charles Pasqua, a former interior minister and a fixture of the French right for decades, was found guilty of taking cash from the two arms dealers even though he knew the money was a proceed of crime. He was sentenced to three years of jail of which two were suspended.

In one of the many colourful details to emerge from the Angolagate hearings, the court said that Pasqua had used money from the arms dealers to fund his campaign for a seat in the European parliament.

The minister used his influence to obtain French national honours for Gaydamak "for services given to the trade of meat products". (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon)



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