Russian-Israeli billionaire businessman Arkady Gaydamak who is wanted in France to serve a six-year sentence for his role in the Angolagate arms sale scandal, has been detained in the Swiss capital Zurich.
Gaydamak has since filed an application for bail but the French government has reportedly made contact with Switzerland seeking his immediate extradition so that he can serve his pending jail term in France.
Angolagate, also known as the Mitterrand-Pasqua affair, involved the illegal shipment of arms from Europe worth $790 million to Angola in the 1990s. Through the deals, military equipment which included warships, helicopters, tanks, artillery shells and landmines were sold to the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) despite an international arms embargo which was in place because the force was at war with Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel movement.
Luxembourg news site PaperJam reported that Swiss police acting on an arrest warrant issued in Luxembourg arrested Gaydamak in Zurich while he was meeting his lawyers to discuss another probe in connection with the controversial acquisition of a $50 million phosphate factory in Kazakhstan by a shell company suspected to have been fronting for him.
However, AFP reported that Gaydamak’s arrest was ordered because he had not paid 400 000 euros to an Israeli football club he once owned.
In October 2009, a French magistrate court tried Gaydamak in absentia and sentenced him to six years in prison for illegal arms sales, abuse of public assets, bribery, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in connection with the Angolan arms. The court found that together with French businessman Pierre Falcone, Gaydamak acted as a conduit for the payment of ‘lobbying fees’, to former French interior minister Charles Pasqua by Angolan officials.
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.
In April 2011 a French appeals court reduced Gaydamak’s jail term to three years, for money laundering and tax fraud.
Pasqua is alleged to have used his influence to help Angola secure the arms despite official disapproval of the deal by the French government and the UN arms embargo on Angola at the time. A warrant for his arrest was issued immediately afterwards and Gaydamak has been on the run since then. Following a successful appeal in April 2011, Gaydamak’s sentence was reduced to three years.
Angolagate involved 36 politically connected French citizens who included Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of former president Francois Mitterrand. However, 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 have not been arrested to date.