French ex-PM Villepin denies graft link to 2002 bombing
France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin on Sunday denied any link between arms deals and the deaths of 11 French engineers in a bombing in Pakistan in 2002.
Witnesses have alleged the bombing was revenge for the cancelling of kickbacks paid to officials in the arms deals, in a complex case linked to alleged illegal political funding and implicating President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Villepin said on Sunday: "To my knowledge there is no link" between the cancelled commissions and the bombing and "there is no formal proof of kickbacks" to intermediaries in France as some have claimed.
The president at the time Jacques Chirac "chose to cancel the commissions for non-Pakistani intermediaries" in the arms deals dating to 1995, Villepin explained, in an interview on television channel TV5 on Sunday evening.
"In the context I do not see that there was a risk," he said. "One event was in 1995, the other was in 2002, there wasn't the same Pakistani government nor the same circumstances in Pakistan."
Villepin was chief of staff to Chirac, who cancelled the commissions after he took office in 1995, suspecting irregularities. Villepin is also Sarkozy's bitterest political rival and likely to run against him for president in 2012.
Witnesses have also alleged Sarkozy, budget minister at the time of the arms deal, was linked to the commissions. He has dismissed the case as a "fairytale".
The bombing in Karachi in 2002 killed 11 French engineers and at least three Pakistanis.
Relatives of the French victims plan to sue Villepin and Chirac for manslaughter and have called for Sarkozy to testify in the case, the families' lawyer Olivier Morice told AFP on Friday.
© 2010 AFP