Angola arms trial opens in Paris
42 defendents, including members of the French elite, face trial for illegally selling USD 791M of weapons to Angola during the 1990s.7 October 2008
PARIS -- Members of the French elite including a president's son and a former interior minister went on trial Monday for illegal weapons sales to Africa in a high-profile case named "Angolagate".
But a lawyer representing the Angolan government in the capital city of Luanda said he would ask the court to dismiss the case using French confidentiality laws protecting military secrets of foreign countries.
Angola is opposed to "public discussion of information in a foreign court" about its national interests and security, said lawyer Francis Teitgen.
Called "Angolagate", the trial on the arms-to-Angola scandal could bring attention to alleged high-level French involvement in weapons deliveries, in violation of a UN arms ban.
The trial centres on USD 790 million (EUR 582 million) worth of weapons bought in eastern Europe from 1993 to 1998, at the height of the war between the Luandan government and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebels.
Judges accuse Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos of asking two businessmen for weapons after France refused to sell him a shipment of tanks due to a UN arms restriction.
42 defendants went on trial but attention will focus on French businessman Pierre Falcone and Israeli-Russian billionaire Arcady Gaydamak who directed the weapons deals.
Both face 10 years in jail for taking bribes and illegal arms sales.
Falcone was at the opening of the trial but Gaydamak was absent and is believed to be in hiding in Israel.
Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, a former adviser on African affairs at the Elysee presidential palace, is accused of "complicity in illegal trade and embezzlement" and taking bribes worth USD 2.6 million (EUR 1.9 million).
Former interior minister Charles Pasqua and his close assistant Jean-Charles Marchiani -- currently in a French prison serving a sentence he received for corruption in a separate case -- also risk 10 years for taking bribes from the Angolan authourities.
Pasqua on Monday again denied any wrongdoing and suggested the charges were politically motivated.
"Everything has been done to implicate me in an affair that I had nothing to do with", Pasqua told Europe 1 radio.
In its request to the Paris court, the Luandan government argued that Falcone acted as a representative of the government and that Angola had a "fundamental right" to defend itself by seeking weapons.
A leading oil producer in Africa, Angola is struggling to rebuild following a devastating 27-year war that ended in 2002 after half a million people were killed.
Prosecutors allege that tanks, shells, landmines, helicopters and even six warships were shipped to Angola over five years, allowing Dos Santos to build up his military in the war against US-backed Savimbi.
Other high-profile defendants include the French mystery writer Paul-Loup Sulitzer and Mitterrand's former advisor Jacques Attali, who risk five years for selling Angola information about their political and media contacts.
Hearings were scheduled to continue until March 2009.
[AFP / Expatica]