Balladur goes on trial over ‘Karachi affair’

Published January 20, 2021
PARIS: French former prime minister Edouard Balladur (centre) arrives for his trial at a court on Tuesday.—AFP
PARIS: French former prime minister Edouard Balladur (centre) arrives for his trial at a court on Tuesday.—AFP

PARIS: Former French prime minister Edouard Balladur appeared in court on Tuesday on charges he used kickbacks from 1990s arms deals to help finance a presidential bid, in a case that has already seen six people sentenced to prison terms.

Balladur, 91, made no statement to a throng of journalists at the Court of Justice of the Republic, which hears cases involving ministerial misconduct.

The conservative ex-premier joins a long list of senior French politicians pursued for alleged financial wrongdoing, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Also on trial is Balladur’s former defence minister Francois Leotard, 78.

The two men were charged in 2017 with “complicity in the misuse of corporate assets” over the sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia between 1993 and 1995.

Investigators discovered an estimated 13 million francs in kickbacks from the deals, now worth some 2.8 million euros ($3.3 million), after accounting for inflation.

A large chunk of the money is suspected to have been funnelled to Balladur’s 1995 presidential bid, while he was serving as prime minister in the final years of Francois Mitterrand’s presidency, in a case known as the “Karachi affair”.

In particular, the inquiry found a cash injection of 10.25 million francs -- mostly in 500-franc bills -- just as Balladur’s team was scrambling after his defeat in the first round of voting.

Questionable cash

Balladur, who also has to answer to a charge that he concealed the crimes, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the 10 million francs came from the sale of T-shirts and other items at campaign rallies.

The claims came to light during an investigation into a 2002 bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, which targeted a bus transporting French engineers.

Fifteen people were kill­ed, including 11 engineers working on the submarine contract, and the Al Qaeda terror network was initially suspected of the attack. But the focus later shifted to the submarines deal as investigators considered whether the bombing may have been revenge for Chirac’s decision to halt commission payments for the arms deals shortly after he beat Balladur in the presidential vote.

Leotard is accused of having created an “opaque network” of intermediaries for the contracts signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The ex-premier also stands charged with instructing the budget ministry — led at the time by Sarkozy — to approve state guarantees for “deficient or underfunded” contracts, because of the alleged kickbacks.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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