French ‘arms to Angola’ trial opens

The trial of 42 people charged with trafficking arms to Angola and receiving illegal kickbacks at the height of the African country’s civil war has opened in Paris.
Pierre Falcone, a French businessman, and Arkady Gaydamak, an Israeli tycoon, are the key suspects in the so-called ‘Angolagate’ trial, which began yesterday.
Prosecutors allege that Falcone and Gaydamak organised the illegal transfer of Russian arms to Angola from 1993 to 2000, for $791million (R599 million).
Prosecutors say that Eduardo Dos Santos, Angola’s president had contacted Gaydamak and Falcone to arrange the arms shipments after France refused to sell him any weaponry.
The other suspects in the case allegedly received illegal payments for the shipments of weaponry to Angola, including tanks, Kalashnikov rifles and land mines.
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of Francois Mitterrand, a former French president is among those accused of accepting undeclared money or gifts from a company run by Falcone in exchange for political or commercial favours.
Lawyers for Falcone and Gaydamak have said that the case should not be heard in a French court because the weaponry never entered French territory.
But prosecutors have argued that the accused use of a French bank and French companies in the deals provides enough reason to try them in Paris.
Charles Pasqua, a former interior minister, faces charges of “passive arms trafficking” and “receiving misused funds”.
In an interview with Europe-1, a French radio station, he denied involvement in the case and said the allegations were an attempt to derail his attempt to contest France’s 2002 presidential elections.
Pasqua, Gaydamak, Falcone and Mitterrand face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if they are convicted.
Angola’s 1979-2002 civil war pitted the Soviet-backed army of dos Santos against the US-backed Unita forces, led by Jonas Savimbi.
The trial is expected to last until March.

Pic: President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola