Sunday, October 17

French court acquits former Prime Minister Édouard Balladur of corruption | France


A French court acquitted former Prime Minister Édouard Balladur of corruption charges after he was accused of using bribes from an arms business, but his former Defense Minister received a suspended jail sentence.

The verdict issued this Thursday by the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which sits to judge former acting ministers and for alleged violations committed in office, came days after former President Nicolas Sarkozy was convicted of corruption.

Balladur, 91, had been accused of funneling illicit arms business commissions to his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1995.

His former Defense Minister, François Léotard, 78, was found guilty of complicity in misuse of assets and sentenced to a two-year prison term with suspension and a 100,000 euros (£ 86,000) fine.

Neither man was present in court for the verdict.

Balladur and Léotard, both right-wingers, were charged in 2017 with “complicity in the misuse of corporate assets” for the sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia between 1993 and 1995.

The verdicts followed Sarkozy’s corruption conviction on Monday that stunned France and has led to a debate on the extent of political corruption. That trial meant that the last two heads of state of France’s right-wing party now called Republicans (LR) – Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy – have criminal convictions.

Sarkozy has promised to appeal and clear his name.

The allegations against Balladur and Léotard came to light during an investigation into a 2002 bomb attack in Karachi, Pakistan, which targeted a bus carrying French engineers. Fifteen people were killed in the attack, including 11 engineers working on the submarine’s contract, with the al-Qaida terrorist network initially suspected of carrying out the assault.

But the focus shifted and French investigators began to consider whether the bombing had been carried out as revenge for the interruption of commission payments for arms transactions.

Balladur lost in the 1995 presidential elections to his rival Chirac, who allegedly cut payments negotiated by the previous government.

Léotard was accused of having created an “opaque network” of intermediaries who charged commissions for contracts signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and then returned part of the money with illicit cash transfers.

Prosecutors alleged that the commissions amounted to 550 million francs, or 117 million euros in today’s money, part of which was channeled to the Balladur campaign.

At the center of the case was a deposit of 10.25 million francs in cash in Balladur’s campaign account three days after his electoral defeat in 1995. Balladur claimed that the money came from donations from supporters and merchandise sales, but prosecutors linked the money to cash withdrawals. in Switzerland by a Franco-Lebanese intermediary who took over commissions on arms deals.

Ziad Takieddine, long active in French right-wing circles, fled to Lebanon last June after a Paris court sentenced him and another middleman, Abdul Rahman el-Assir, to five years in prison for their participation in the bribery of “Karachi”.

Three others were also convicted, but have announced appeals.

“I have a completely free conscience,” Balladur told the court during questioning.

Takieddine has also made, and has retracted, that he delivered suitcases full of cash from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to Sarkozy’s chief of staff to help with the former president’s 2007 presidential campaign. Those claims are the subject of a separate investigation into Sarkozy.

On Monday, it was discovered that Sarkozy, 66, had formed a “corruption pact” with his lawyer Thierry Herzog to convince a judge to obtain and share information about another investigation into his campaign financing.

Sarkozy, who has been the subject of investigations since leaving office in 2007, denies the charges and has promised to clear his name with an appeal. In two interviews on Wednesday, he lashed out at the verdict and said he was considering filing a complaint with Europe’s highest human rights court.

“I never betrayed the trust of the French people,” the French president from 2007 to 2012 told TF1 in a primetime interview on Wednesday night.


www.theguardian.com

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