International

Angolagate, Edouardo dos Santos trial, Arkadi Gaydamak Angola
Sipa via Asociated Press
Charles Pasqua, French Senator and former Interior minister, is escorted by a gendarme as he
arrives at
court at the start of the trial called "Angolagate" in Paris. (AP)

‘Angolagate’ Trial Explores Corruption in France

October 08, 2008 05:20 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A highly anticipated court case, in which a diverse cast of characters is implicated in decades-old, arms-for-oil deals with Angola, is now grabbing the attention of France.

Angolagate

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In the much publicized French case, 42 people have been brought to trial for a number of charges involving the sale of arms for oil with Angola. After seven years of investigation, the case finally made its way to court on Monday.

The main suspects are charged with dodging a French prohibition on arms sales to Angola during its civil war from 1993 to 1998, sending about $791 million worth of arms to President Eduardo dos Santos and his Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The Marxist president allegedly rewarded the multinational companies with oil, a plentiful resource in his country, in exchange for money and arms to help him battle the Unita rebels, supported by the United States.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “The 468-page indictment reads like an Ian Fleming plot: allegations of secret arms deals to fuel a bloody conflict in an oil-rich African nation; suitcases full of cash allegedly exchanging hands in a Paris mansion; a cast of characters ranging from a French presidential hopeful to a Chinese opera singer.”

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, 61, son of the former French president François Mitterrand and former African affairs adviser, is charged with helping to organize the arms-for-oil deals. Mitterrand reputedly connected Dos Santos with “Russian-born Israeli billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, 56, and Frenchman Pierre Falcone, 54,” the Daily Telegraph reports. “Prosecutors claim the pair pocketed millions before distributing wads of cash to French and Angolan officials in exchange for political and commercial favours.” Gaydamak is also an Israeli politician and father of Alexandre Gaydamak, who owns the Portsmouth Football Club soccer team in England.

Dos Santos needed money and arms as his rival, Jonas Savimbi and Unita, aided by the sale of “blood diamonds,” took control of a large part of Angola. At the time, French policy forbade the sale of arms to a country fighting a war. Mitterrand introduced Dos Santos to French businessman Pierre Falcone; Falcone was a “key advisor” to Sofremi, a “government defence export agency controlled by the French Interior Ministry,” according to The First Post.

Falcone was also the head of a private company at the time called Brenco. The indictment claims that in 1993, as Unita began to gain ground, Brenco sold $47 million worth of arms to Dos Santos in a deal that also involved Arcadi Gaydamak. The next year, Falcone and Gaydamak then reputedly made a $463 million deal to send “Russian-made tanks, rockets and helicopters” to Angola. As such sales were illegal in France, allegations claim that in 1993, the parties involved cloaked the arms as police and security equipment in order to circumvent the embargoes.

On Tuesday, Angola called for an end to the trial. Francis Teitgen, a lawyer representing Angola, called the trial an attack “on Angola’s sovereignty,” arguing that it would release confidential information about the country to the public. Teitgen said, “We must apply to Angola the same treatment that France applies to its own (classified) documents,” according to the Associated Press.

Defense lawyers also questioned whether France has the jurisdiction to hold the trial, because weapons never passed through the country. Instead, a Slovak company transported the weapons and tanks from Russia. The prosecution, however, pointed to the involvement of French companies and the French bank Paribas in the arms shipments, the AP reports. The judge denied both requests, and said the trial would proceed.

Background: Angola

Angola is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its great oil wealth. The country achieved independence from Portugal in 1975, and immediately became involved in a civil war between the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, led by Jose Eduardo dos Santos since 1979, and the rebel group Unita. The Soviet Union and Cuba took the side of then-Marxist MPLA, while the United States and South Africa supported Unita.

Failed peace deals caused UN peacekeepers to enter the country in 1994. However, the peacekeepers left in 1999 as the violence continued, fueled in part by the “blood diamond” trade. Unita leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in February 2002, and a cease-fire agreement was signed that April. The economy is now on the rise thanks to oil wealth and loans from other countries, though much of the infrastructure remains weak and the government regularly faces charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

In the September 2008 elections, the MPLA handily won the parliamentary elections, the first to be held in 16 years. President dos Santos has indicated that he will not run in the 2009 presidential elections, but “he does not appear to have groomed a successor and has sidelined potential rivals,” according to the BBC. 

Related Topic: Recent trials in France

“Angolagate” is just the latest widely publicized French court case. In May, a French court “convicted the son of former French Defense Minister Yvon Bourges and a Belgian national of trafficking Iranian arms to Qatar and African countries between 1993 and 2000,” according to the Associated Press.

On Oct. 1, a judge dismissed a case investigating possible corruption involving the 1991 sale of French ships to Taiwan. The investigators were unable to proceed with the case because they couldn’t access the necessary “classified military secrets,” reported the AP.

“Angolagate” also bears semblance to the Elf-Aquitaine affair from 2003. In that case, also stemming from the early 1990s, the three heads of the then state-owned oil company, Elf-Aquitaine, went to trial for large-scale corruption. “At the heart of the system was Elf's Africa connection,” according to the BBC. “With at times disarming frankness, the three men have spoken out for the first time about how French state assets—tax-payers’ money in other words—was sprayed around the continent.”

Key Players: A prominent cast of characters

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