French appeals trial starts in Angola arms scandal

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A French court launched appeals hearings Wednesday for former interior minister Charles Pasqua and others convicted in a far-reaching corruption scandal over arms sales to Angola in the 1990s.

The "Angolagate" affair saw Pasqua, 83, receive a one-year jail term with two years suspended, in a scandal in which he implicated several top political figures including Jacques Chirac, French president at the time of the affair.

Pasqua is among about 20 defendants at a Paris court appealing their convictions handed down in 2009.

He was accused of receiving illegal payments in return for lobbying for a $790 million (590 million euro) sale of arms to Angola in the 1990s, during its 1975-2002 civil war.

Among the other key defendants in the affair, the businessman Pierre Falcone, 56, was jailed for six years for the illegal arms sales and paying bribes. He is also appealing at the current trial.

Another defendant, the Franco-Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, 58, was also handed a six-year jail term in 2009 but is on the run and did not attend Wednesday's hearing.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of France's former president Francois Mitterrand, was also among the defendants at Wednesday's hearing.

He was handed a suspended jail term in the 2009 trial which he has not appealed, but said he was obliged to attend in order to hear a separate appeal by a civil plaintiff in his case.

Mitterrand told reporters outside the court that "these affairs date back 20 years" and denounced the ongoing judicial procedures as "relentless".

Pasqua and the other defendants made no comment to the media on Wednesday morning. The first three days of hearings were expected to deal mostly with procedural issues and the appeals trial is set to last until March 2.

© 2011 AFP

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