French calls for parliament probe into Pakistan attack

26th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

France's opposition called Thursday for a parliamentary inquiry into the 2002 killing of 11 French engineers in Pakistan, over allegations of a link to a corrupt submarine deal with Islamabad.

Paris--According to a lawyer for the victims' families, the judicial probe under way into the Karachi attack -- initially pinned on Al-Qaeda -- is now focusing on a 1994 sub contract with French state firm DCN, the engineers' employer.

Anti-terrorism investigators now suspect it could have been ordered as punishment after Paris stopped paying commissions to Pakistani intermediaries for the contract won by French state firm DCN, said lawyer Olivier Morice.

Magali Drouet, daughter of one victim, says the magistrates specifically believe the attack was ordered because payments were not made to Asif Ali Zardari, who is now Pakistan's president but was a minister at the time.

Scandal is also brewing in France over media reports suggesting the attack could also be tied up with a political finance scam involving kickbacks paid to President Nicolas Sarkozy's one-time mentor, Edouard Balladur.

The Socialist Party leader in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, wrote to the parliament speaker Thursday calling for a fact-finding inquiry into the attack.

"Seven years after the events, it is time for our national representatives to look into these serious happenings," Ayrault wrote.

The May 8, 2002 attack saw a car packed with explosives ram into a minibus carrying the 11 French engineers for DCN, who were killed along with three Pakistanis.

Two alleged members of an Al-Qaeda-linked group were convicted in Pakistan in 2003 over the Karachi attack, but both were acquitted last month after a court ruled there was insufficient evidence against them.

Details of the commission payments for the sub deal emerged in 2008 as part of an investigation into French arms sales.

Legal at the time -- although they have since been banned -- the commissions were set up when Balladur was prime minister. They stopped after his rival Jacques Chirac was elected president in 1995.

Investigators suspect Chirac blocked the payments because kickbacks were being siphoned off to fund a war chest for his rival Balladur, who ran unsuccessfully against him in the 1995 race.

Balladur's campaign manager was the young Sarkozy, who also served as budget minister in his government.

Chirac's defence minister at the time, Charles Millon, confirmed to Paris Match news magazine he blocked the payment of commissions on foreign arms sales that were suspected of generating kickbacks in France.

Questioned last week on whether the Karachi attack could have been linked to commissions on the submarine deal, President Sarkozy dismissed the suggestion as "grotesque."

In a letter seen by AFP, the head of the DCN's international branch, Philippe Japiot, wrote to French investigators in September 2002 arguing that the attack was a direct result of its contract to supply the Agosta subs.

But the Paris prosecutor's office said on Monday there were "no objective elements" linking the attack to the submarine deal.

France's newly sworn-in Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who was defence minister in 2002, said Thursday the French and Pakistani governments were "highly attached to the truth being established."

She told French senators: "It is obvious that full light must be shed on what took place, and I strongly hope that it will."

Alliot-Marie also said the two French investigating judges -- who took over the probe from a colleague in 2007 -- were being given "all necessary help including in terms of international cooperation."

AFP/ Matthieu Rabechault and Mathieu Foulkes/ Expatica

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