Sarkozy pressured on arms deals allegations

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Opposition lawmakers Thursday called for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to come clean about his suspected links to kickbacks on arms deals that were allegedly used to fund political campaigning.

Three Socialist deputies spoke out after extracts from a police report published on Wednesday alleged that a company set up by Sarkozy had channelled money from commissions on arms deals to fund political activities in France.

One of the arms deals is thought by investigators to have led to an attack that killed 11 French engineers in Pakistan in 2002.

News website Mediapart quoted Luxembourg police as saying that funds handled by a Luxembourg company, Heine, "came back to France to finance political campaigns" in 1995. The report did not cite specific evidence.

Sarkozy oversaw the creation of Heine when he was budget minister under then-prime minister Edouard Balladur. He was later spokesman for Balladur's presidential campaign.

Socialist lawmaker Manuel Valls and the party's deputy leader Harlem Desir called for French judges to obtain the Luxembourg police documents and shed light on the affair.

"The officials at the time, namely Edouard Balladur and Nicolas Sarkozy, the budget minister who was in charge of the sale and the commissions, must be asked to provide all the information that the French are waiting for," Desir added.

"The ministers at the time owe that to the French people and to the families of the victims" of the Pakistan killings, he said.

Balladur lost the 1995 election to Jacques Chirac, who promptly cancelled a raft of commissions that were allegedly due to be paid to Pakistani officers.

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

A Socialist deputy who headed a parliamentary commission on the Karachi attack, Bernard Cazeneuve, was quoted by Le Parisien newspaper on Thursday as saying: "the government is doing everything to obstruct the truth."

Government spokesman Luc Chatel dismissed the recurring allegations as "a serial fairytale" and said the government was cooperating with the existing investigation by a French judge.

"These contracts took place in the very early 1990s," before Balladur became prime minister in 1993, Chatel said. "The Balladur government did not have responsibility at the time" the arms deals were signed, he said.

Balladur and Sarkozy have repeatedly dismissed allegations of illegal party funding.

© 2010 AFP

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