French ex-minister acquitted in arms scandal

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A French appeals court on Friday overturned a former interior minister's conviction for corruption in a far-reaching scandal over arms sales to Angola in the 1990s.

Charles Pasqua, 84, had received a jail term of one year with two suspended in 2009 in the "Angolagate" trial in which he implicated top political figures including Jacques Chirac, French president at the time of the affair.

Pasqua 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.

After three months of appeals hearings the Paris appeals court on Friday overturned his conviction, the presiding judge said, after Pasqua's lawyers argued that the accusations were unfounded.

The court reduced the jail term handed to another defendant in the case, the Franco-Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, halving it to three years. Gaydamak is on the run and did not attend the trial.

Pasqua denied accusations he accepted money for securing a state honour for Gaydamak. Pasqua also accused Chirac and former prime minister Alain Juppe, now foreign minister, of dragging him into the affair to harm his career.

A third key defendant, the businessman Pierre Falcone, meanwhile had his sentence reduced on Friday from six years to 30 months. He had been convicted of the illegal arms sales and paying bribes.

© 2011 AFP

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