Angolagate arms dealer released from Swiss prison

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Russian-Israeli billionaire businessman Arkady Gaydamak, who is wanted by French prosecutors over his involvement in the illegal sales of arms to Angola at the height of its civil war, has been freed from custody in Switzerland after two weeks of detention.

He has since flown out to his native home Israel, dealing yet another blow to efforts by French prosecutors who wanted Switzerland to extradite him so that he can serve a pending three-year jail sentence for his role in the Angolan arms deal in Paris.

Gaydamak was arrested two weeks ago in the Swiss capital Zurich on a warrant issued in Luxembourg over his failure to honour an overdue settlement of 400 000 euros ($542,000) owed to former French football legend Luis Fernandez, who is also the former coach of Betar Jerusalem, an Israeli football club once owned by Gaydamak.

Swiss newspaper La Tribune said he was freed after his lawyers and Fernandez signed a statement of commitment swearing that he will pay the outstanding amount to the plaintiff. Upon his release from a Geneva prison, Gaydamak was reportedly flew out to Israel in a private jet despite spirited French attempts to have him extradited to a Paris prison to serve out his sentence for the role in the Angolan arms deal.

The scandal involved corrupt and illegal sales of weapons in the 1990s which included tanks, warships, artillery shells, landmines and attack helicopters to the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), through an elite group of political and business leaders linked to past French governments and Angolan figures linked to the regime of President Eduardo dos Santos.

In October 2009, a French court tried Gaydamak in absentia and sentenced him to six years in prison for involvement in illegal arms sales, abuse of public assets, bribery, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in connection with the Angolan arms scandal.

The conviction was based on findings that he had and French businessman Pierre Falcone had acted as intermediaries in the payment of ‘lobbying fees’, to former French interior minister Charles Pasqua by Angolan businessmen and officials linked to President Eduardo Dos Santos.

Pasqua was charge for using his influence to find arms dealers who would procure and supply arms to the FAA through figures in the Angolan government and ruling party despite official French government objections and in violation of the UN arms embargo which was currently in place over Angola due to the 1975-2002 civil war which was raging at the time.

In April 2011, Gaydamak appealed the sentence in the French courts in absentia and his lawyers convinced the courts to reduce the jail term to three years. However, he is still on the run and top Angolan government officials and members of the political-business elite linked to President Dos Santos who were implicated in the case by French prosecutors during the probe have not been arrested to date.