'Angolagate' businessman freed after Swiss detention

4th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

Arcady Gaydamak, the wealthy Franco-Israeli businessman wanted in France over alleged involvement in an Angolan arms sales scandal, has been freed after two weeks in a Swiss prison, a report said Wednesday.

Gaydamak, who was detained in a Geneva prison, left Switzerland on board a private plane for Israel, according to a newspaper report which was confirmed by a source close to him.

The 61-year-old tycoon had been arrested for not paying 400,000 euros ($542,000) to Luis Fernandez, a former French footballing international and the ex-coach of Betar Jerusalem, a club he once owned.

The newspaper La Tribune said that Gaydamak's lawyer had signed a financial deal with the plaintiff, Fernandez, for the amount involved.

Swiss prosecutors got involved because the money reportedly was meant to be paid via Geneva, but Fernandez allegedly never received it.

The trouble-courting billionaire is also wanted in France for his role in the 1990s "Angolagate" affair, involving illegal arms sales to the African nation during its civil war.

Upon his arrest, Paris filed an extradition request, after having failed repeatedly to bring him to court.

"Angolagate" implicated members of the French political elite including former interior minister Charles Pasqua and ex-president Francois Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand.

Pasqua was accused of receiving illegal payments in return for lobbying for a $790 million sale of arms to Angola in the 1990s.

The payments came from two intermediaries, businessmen Gaydamak and Pierre Falcone, for sales including warships, helicopters, tanks and munitions.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and other senior Angolan figures were also accused of receiving kickbacks from the deal.

The resource-rich African nation was locked in conflict for four decades, first fighting colonial ruler Portugal and then, after independence, sliding into civil war in 1975.

Angola was a Cold War battleground, with Soviet and Cuban forces backing left-leaning forces and South Africa lending manpower to their adversaries.

It was fertile ground for arms dealers -- peace only came in 2002, a decade after the Cold War ended.

In October 2009, a French court convicted Gaydamak, who had gone on the run, in absentia for his role in the case and sentenced him to six years in prison.

But in April 2011 a Paris appeals court reduced Gaydamak's sentence to three years, for money laundering and tax fraud. Gaydamak's appeal was rejected earlier this year.

© 2013 AFP

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