France arrest warrant for UNESCO envoy

16th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 15 (AFP) - France has issued an international warrant for the arrest of French businessman Pierre Falcone nearly seven months after he was appointed Angolan envoy to UNESCO, on suspicion of having illegally sold weapons to Angola, sources close to the case said Thursday.

PARIS, Jan 15 (AFP) - France has issued an international warrant for the arrest of French businessman Pierre Falcone nearly seven months after he was appointed Angolan envoy to UNESCO, on suspicion of having illegally sold weapons to Angola, sources close to the case said Thursday.

The warrant was issued Wednesday after a magistrate said that Falcone had only limited diplomatic immunity through his appointment last June to the UN's Scientific, Cultural and Education Organization.

He came under investigation on suspicion of having organised the sale of USD 500 million (EUR 400 million) worth of jets, helicopters and other weaponry to the Angolan government of Eduardo Dos Santos in 1993 and 1994.

The sales allegedly took place during the southwest African country's civil war, in breach of international sanctions.

He was also investigated for allegedly buying influence. Falcone denies the charges.

The arrest warrant has been issued because he twice refused to appear before a judge and has left French soil which he was forbidden from doing under his probation terms, a source said.

But his defence lawyer has argued that Falcone's appointment in June 2003 as ambassador for Angola to Paris-based UNESCO gives him diplomatic immunity effectively annulling probation conditions.

"My position is confirmed by a very large number of international law specialists. Mr Falcone's immunity is total," Yves Levy told AFP.

But Philippe Courroye, the magistrate leading the inquiry, argues that immunity is limited to acts carried out as part of his diplomatic functions.

The French foreign ministry appeared to share this view last September when it stated that immunity for French nationals carrying out diplomatic functions for a foreign state at UNESCO "are limited only to acts carried out by them in the course of their functions".

Theoretically by issuing an international arrest warrant the person's name is placed on a list and crossing a border may prompt police questioning.Falcone spent 11 days in French custody in October 2002 for breaking a bail agreement by meeting another person under investigation in the same arms-to-Angola case.

He had previously spent a year in pre-trial detention before being released in December 2001 under the parole conditions.

Angola's government said last September it complied with international law when it appointed Falcone as its ambassador to UNESCO even though he is under investigation in France for alleged illegal arms trafficking.

UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura had said Wednesday that Angola's appointment of the French businessman to the body would not affect ties with Luanda.

Matsuura told reporters the appointment last year "would not affect cooperation between UNESCO and Angola".

The appointment caused controversy within the organisation prompting French actress Catherine Deneuve to resign as a goodwill ambassador from the UN body in November.


© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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