Sarkozy pressed on alleged kickbacks on sub deal

26th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Nicolas Sarkozy and his allies came under fresh pressure Monday to respond to party funding allegations that have been linked to a Pakistani bomb attack that killed 11 French engineers.

Sarkozy was spokesman for former prime minister Edouard Balladur's 1995 presidential bid, at a time when the campaign is alleged to have taken kickbacks on a deal to sell submarines to the Pakistani navy.

Balladur lost the race and his victorious rival Jacques Chirac promptly cancelled a raft of commissions that were allegedly to have been paid to Pakistani officers. Sarkozy took over the presidency himself in 2007.

In May 2002 a bomb in Karachi killed 11 French naval engineers who were in Pakistan to build the submarines. A French judge investigating the attack now thinks it may have been carried out in revenge for the cancelled bribes.

Balladur and Sarkozy dismissed the allegation when it surfaced last year, but new revelations on Monday in the daily Liberation have revived interest in the scandal and opposition politicians are demanding answers.

"Now that these revelations are on the table, Mr Balladur has to explain himself," said Socialist lawmaker Pierre Moscovici, arguing that Sarkozy's government could also declassify documents related to the sale.

"So now we need state authorities, starting with the president and the minister of defence, to explain what happened," he added.

The lawyer acting for the families of the Frenchmen killed in the Karachi attack seized upon the new reports to renew his allegations that magistrates are soft-pedaling an investigation that might lead them to Sarkozy.

"The prosecutor has known since November 2007 that the president is directly involved in this scandal, from being at the heart of the corruption," lawyer Olivier Morice told AFP.

Sarkozy did not immediately respond to the new attacks, but has previously described talk of the bomb attack being linked to the funding of the Balladur campaign as a "grotesque fairy tale".

On Monday, Liberation reported that it had unearthed documents proving that Balladur's campaign banked 10 million francs (around two million dollars) in cash in its main account on April 26, 1995.

The money was presented as having been raised from untraceable small donations from supporters at political rallies, but half of the sum was in the form of large denomination 500 franc (100 dollar) notes, the paper said.

Another document obtained by Liberation appears to show that two middle-men in the sale of the submarines, which the paper said were chosen by Balladur's camp, received at least 54 million francs in commission.

© 2010 AFP

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