Tue, 09 Mar 2021

French former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur is scheduled to face the judges this week, to answer charges that he used kickbacks from arms deals to fund his 1995 presidential bid. The trial is expected to last until mid-February.

Balladur, who is 91-years-old, joins a long list of senior French politicians pursued for alleged financial wrongdoing. Others include former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

The conservative ex-premier will be tried by the Court of Justice of the Republic in Paris, a tribunal of parliamentarians and professional judges, dedicated to hearing cases of alleged ministerial misconduct.

Also in the dock will be Balladur's former Defence Minister, Francois Leotard, 78, though his presence at the trial's opening is uncertain because of illness.

Balladur will appear in court "to face his judges and answer their questions," his lawyer Felix de Belloy said.

'Karachi' corruption trial opens in France after 25 years

The two men 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, when Balladur was prime minister in the final years of Francois Mitterrand's presidency.

The kickbacks are estimated at 13 million francs, now worth some 2.8-million euros, allowing for inflation.

The sum is believed to have included a cash injection of about 10 million francs to Balladur's unsuccessful 1995 presidential campaign against Chirac.

2002 Karachi bombing

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

Fifteen people were killed, including 11 engineers working on the submarine contract.

The Al-Qaeda terror network was initially suspected of the attack.

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

Six already sentenced

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

The ex-premier also stands charged with instructing the budget ministry -- led at the time by Nicolas Sarkozy -- to approve state guarantees for "deficient or underfunded" contracts, because of the alleged kickbacks.

French court jails six over 'Karachigate' arms sales scandal

Investigators say that cash deposits in Balladur's campaign fund coincided with trips to Switzerland by Ziad Takieddine, a Lebanese-French intermediary who has long been active in French rightwing circles.

Takieddine fled to Lebanon last June after a Paris court sentenced him and another middleman, Abdul Rahman El-Assir, to five years in prison over their role in the "Karachi" kickbacks.

Balladur's former campaign manager Nicolas Bazire was given a three-year sentence by the same court, as was Leotard's adviser, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.

Thierry Gaubert, an adviser to Sarkozy at the finance ministry, and a former executive at state-owned naval contractor DCN (since renamed Naval Group) got two-year sentences. All have appealed the rulings.

Takieddine told judges in 2013 that he participated in the secret financing of Balladur's campaign after being approached by Bazire and Gaubert, though he retracted the claim six years later.

In November, Takieddine also retracted his claim that he delivered suitcases carrying a total of five-million-euros from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to Sarkozy's chief of staff in 2006 and 2007, to help Sarkozy's successful presidential campaign.

Sarkozy has denied the allegations, and investigations into the case are continuing.

(with AFP)

Originally published on RFI

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