Thu, 15 Apr 2021

French former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur has been acquitted of charges related to a campaign financing scandal dating back to the 1990s, in a verdict in a Paris court today. However, his former defence minister Francois Leotard was handed a two year suspended sentence and a fine.

Edouard Balladur, Prime Minister under Jacques Chirac and now 91 years old, was accused of using kickbacks from 1990s arms deals with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help finance a presidential bid.

The long-running so-called "Karachi affair" case has already seen six people sentenced to prison terms.

Balladur's former defence minister Francois Leotard, also on trial in connection with the affair, was given a two-year suspended sentence and fined 100,000 euros.

They 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.

The Karachi Affair

Investigators discovered an estimated 13 million francs in kickbacks from the deals, now worth some 2.8 million euros after accounting for inflation.

A large chunk of the money was suspected to have been funnelled into Balladur's unsuccessful 1995 presidential bid, which he mounted while serving as prime minister in the final years of Francois Mitterrand's presidency.

The case came to light during an investigation into a 2002 bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, that targeted a bus transporting French engineers.

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

Al-Qaeda was initially suspected of the attack.

But the focus later shifted to the submarines deal as investigators considered whether the bombing may have been revenge for former President Jacques Chirac's decision to halt the commission payments for the arms deals, shortly after he beat Balladur in the presidential race.

Leotard was accused of creating an opaque network of intermediaries for the contracts, signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Close to Nicolas Sarkozy

Edouard Balladur is close to former President Nicolas Sarkozy who, as a young minister, supported him in 1995 in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency against fellow right-wing hopeful Jacques Chirac, who went on to win.

Sarkozy himself was sentenced on Monday to one year in prison with two years suspended in an entirely separate case.

He was convicted of forming "a corruption pact" with his lawyer Thierry Herzog to convince a judge to obtain information about an inquiry into the financing of Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy has launched an appeal.

Originally published on RFI

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