Monday, September 26, 2022

French ex-premier charged over 'kickbacks in arms deal to Pakistan'

French ex-premier charged over 'kickbacks in arms deal to Pakistan'

PARIS - Former French prime minister Edouard Balladur has been charged over allegations that kickbacks from the sale of submarines to Pakistan may have helped finance his 1995 presidential election campaign.

The 88-year-old was charged with "complicity in misuse of corporate assets and concealment" over the sale of submarines to Pakistan in 1994 when he was a premier and hoping to become president.

For years, judges have been trying to unravel the "Karachi Affair", a series of nebulous dealings by middlemen involving possible "retro-commissions" linked to the sale of Agosta class submarines by the French government to Pakistan in the 1990s.

The investigation was launched after 15 people, including 11 French submarine engineers, were murdered in a May 2002 bomb attack in Karachi.

The al Qaeda extremist network was initially suspected of the attack but the focus later shifted to the arms deal, with investigators probing whether the bombing was revenge for the non-payment of bribes secretly promised to Pakistani officials.

Balladur, a conservative, was charged after being questioned Monday by the Court of Justice of the Republic, a special tribunal that hears cases of ministerial misconduct, the source said.

In a statement sent to AFP Balladur said he had instructed his lawyer to challenge the charges, saying they failed to take into account the fact that his campaign spending had been vetted by the authorities and that the alleged wrongdoing dated back 23 years.

The case is one of several high-profile corruption cases ensnaring senior politicians in France, chiefly from the conservative camp.

Right-wing presidential candidate Francois Fillon crashed out of the running in this year's election after being charged with giving his wife suspected fake jobs as a parliamentary assistant.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who served as Balladur's budget minister, has also been embroiled in several scandals, including suspected corruption involving a judge.