The guilty verdicts handed down on Tuesday in France’s “Angolagate” arms scandal have lobbed a bomb into the political class.
Former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua is the highest-profile head to roll, given a three year prison term, two suspended, and a 100,000 euro fine. Hours later he was on the national news: “I think that all these arms deals need clarification. The president of the Republic knew what was going on, so did the prime minister, and most of his ministers, except for me as it was not part of my brief. I think it’s high time things were sorted out.” The verdict took the courts 10 years to reach. 36 of the 42 accused were found guilty, with arms dealer Pierre Falcone getting the severest sentence, six years. He was immediately arrested after the verdict, unusual in French judicial procedure. All intend to appeal. The eldest son of the late president Mitterrand was given a suspended sentence and a 375,000 euro fine: “This has been an unacceptable legal witchhunt, and one of the reasons is simple; my name, Mitterrand.” Between 1993 and 1998 it’s estimated the group illegally sold overpriced ex-Soviet arms to Angola for 530 million euros, on which they made 270 million euros profit. They helped fuel a 27-year long war that cost half a million lives. Some of the money also returned to France to help fuel political manoeuvres there.