'Angolagate' arms trial starts in Paris

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'Angolagate' arms trial starts in Paris

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A huge arms trafficking trial, dubbed “Angolagate”, has started in Paris, with former high-ranking French officials among the 42 people in the dock. It is alleged that two businessmen, Pierre Falcone and Arkady Gaydamak, illegally sold almost 800 million dollars worth of weaponry to the Angolan government in the 1990s.

Dozens of others are accused of taking kickbacks. Central to the case is the Brenco company set up in Paris by Franco-Brazilian billionnaire Falcone. It specialised in petrol and arms sales.

In 1993, as Angola descended into civil war, its government, led by current President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, needed equipment to defeat US-backed rebels. A UN arms embargo on Angola meant the French government rejected selling to dos Santos.

Falcone, though, was ready to do business. The prosecution alleges he and his associate Gaydamak, who is now living in Israel, sold ex-Soviet weaponry at a 50 percent mark-up.

Angola was able to meet this price thanks to its blossoming petrol revenues. Falcone and Gaydamak drafted in intermediaries to help with the deal. Jean-Christophe Mitterrand – son of the late president, Francois Mitterrand – today stands accused of taking bribes. His lawyers insist he was simply payed for advising Falcone’s company on Angola.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua is charged with influence peddling, as is his adviser Jean-Charles Marchiani. Pasqua says the case was brought to stop him running for the French presidency in 2002.

An adviser to President Mitterrand, Jacques Attali, is accused of using his significant political influence in Paris to help eliminate fiscal problems facing his fellow accused.

The whole affair is said to be worth 790 million dollars. Falcone and Gaydamak, as well as Pasqua and Marchiani – who are alleged to have earned over 300,000 dollars – all face 10 years in prison if convicted. Mitterrand, Attali and a French author Paul Lou Sulitzer risk a five-year sentence.

Dozens of Angolan officials suspected of taking bribes have not been charged in the case. The Angolan government is trying to have the trial thrown out to protect military secrets. It may hope for help from President Sarkozy, who visited Luanda in May to draw a line under the Angolagate affair.