France will try 90-year-old former prime minister Edouard Balladur over claims that he used kickbacks from a 1990s arms sales to fund a failed presidential bid, the country’s top prosecutor said Tuesday.
Balladur joins a long list of senior French politicians pursued for alleged financial wrongdoing, including deceased ex-president Jacques Chirac, Chirac’s successor Nicolas Sarkozy and two other ex-prime ministers.
The conservative ex-premier will be tried by the Court of Justice of the Republic, a tribunal dedicated to hearing cases of ministerial misconduct, attorney general Francois Molins announced.
Balladur and former defence minister Francois Leotard, 77, were charged in 2017 with “complicity in misuse of corporate assets” over the sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia when Balladur was prime minister, between 1993 and 1995.
The kickbacks are estimated at about 13 million francs, which are suspected of including a cash donation to Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign of a little over 10 million francs, Molins said in a statement. Balladur also has to answer to a charge that he concealed the crimes.
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.
The Al-Qaeda terror network was initially suspected of the attack, but the focus later shifted to the arms deal as investigators considered whether the bombing may have been revenge for the non-payment of promised bribes after Chirac pipped Balladur in the vote and cancelled the payment of commissions.
Leotard is accused of having created an “opaque network” underpinning arms contracts signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia under the Balladur government.
The ex-premier, in turn, stands charged with instructing the budget ministry to approve state guarantees for “deficient or underfunded” contracts, because of the alleged kickbacks, Molins’ statement read. Balladur’s lawyers said Tuesday he was “confident” he would be cleared of any wrongdoing, “given that he never committed any of the acts of which he is accused.” When he was first charged two years ago, Balladur noted that his campaign spending had been vetted by the authorities and protested that the alleged wrongdoing dated back more than two decades. — AFP