French arms trial was biased: Angola

Angola called the conviction of the son of the late French President Francois Mitterrand and others over illegal arms sales to the African country as unjust, biased and politically motivated.
A Paris court earlier this week convicted Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and others of involvement in illegal arms sales to Angola, lifting the lid on a murky world of secret payments linking Paris to one of Africa’s longest wars.

Known as “Angolagate”, the trial centred on $790 million in Soviet-made arms sales to Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos’s MPLA between 1993 and 1998 when it was fighting UNITA rebels, a deal a Paris court said violated United Nations arms embargo.

Angola’s government said there was no UN arms embargo at the time, and the trial was motivated by vengeance because some Angolans backed by the French special services during Angola’s 27-year civil war had failed to gain power.
“There was no international embargo against the acquisition of arms by Angola’s legitimate government and these were bought by Angola in a perfectly legal business transaction between two sovereign states,” the government said in a statement.
“So much so, that none of the deal’s signatories were summoned during this judicial process.”

Arms dealers

The comments appeared at odds with the evidence produced during five months of court hearings in Paris last year. The arms deals in question were not between the French and Angolan states. Rather, they were brokered by two private arms dealers, Pierre Falcone and Arkady Gaydamak, both of whom were convicted of illegal arms trafficking and sentenced to six years in jail.

Mitterrand was found guilty of taking over $2 million from Falcone and Gaydamak to promote their interests. He was fined and given a suspended two-year jail sentence.

The court found that sales of Soviet made weaponry, including 420 tanks, 150 000 shells, 170 000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters and six warships, began when Mitterrand’s father Francois was in office in 1993 and continued until 1998.

A total of 42 people were charged in the case and almost all of them were convicted.

Court papers alleged that dos Santos and his inner circle received millions of dollars in kickbacks but no Angolan official was indicted.

Dos Santos, in power since 1979, made it clear from the start that he was displeased about old arms deals being exposed in court, prompting French President Nicolas Sarkozy to fly to Luanda in May 2008 to mend relations.

Angola signalled the court ruling could lead to retaliation against France, which has been keen to cultivate ties to one of Africa’s leading oil exporters. French energy firm Total is the number two producer in Angola.
“The Angolan government vehemently rejects the abusive way in which its name was repeatedly used in this whole process,” the statement read.
“This constitutes a violation of the principle of mutual respect between the two states with diplomatic relations as well as the violation of state secrets inherent to sensitive issues of national defence and security.”

Pic: President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola