Europe

Karachi affair: Six men sentenced to prison over arms deal

French lawyer of the victims' families, Olivier Morice, speaks to journalists at the "Tribunal de Paris" courthouse in Paris, 15 June 2020 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lawyer Olivier Morice said he was now focusing on the trial of Édouard Balladur

Six men have been sentenced to two to five years in jail in France over a scandal involving almost €2m (£1.8m) in kickbacks from a 1990s arms deal.

Three ex-French government officials and three others were found guilty of participating in the "Karachi affair" - a submarine deal with Pakistan.

The deal involved secret commissions that allowed funds to return to France.

Some of the money was allegedly used to fund ex-French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur's failed presidential bid.

Mr Balladur, now aged 91, and his then-Defence Minister François Léotard, have also been charged and face trial at the criminal court in Paris in the coming months.

Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Monday's convictions are the first in a long-running investigation into the scandal.

Who has been jailed?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The court ruled that Nicolas Bazire "knew perfectly well" about the illegal payments

One of the former government officials sentenced on Monday was Nicolas Bazire, who was Mr Balladur's former campaign manager and best man at ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wedding to supermodel Carla Bruni in 2008.

The court said that Mr Bazire, who was ordered to spend three years in prison, "knew perfectly well" that illegal funds had appeared in Mr Balladur's campaign accounts.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres was ordered to spend three years in prison

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, a former adviser to Mr Léotard, was also ordered to spend three years in jail.

Thierry Gaubert, a former aide to Mr Sarkozy - who was then the budget minister in charge of sales and commissions - got a two-year prison sentence.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Thierry Gaubert is a former aide to Nicolas Sarkozy

The remaining men convicted in Paris were former defence contractor Dominique Castellan, who was also handed two years, and two so-called Lebanese middlemen, who were sentenced to five years.

The Lebanese businessmen, Ziad Takieddine and Abdul Rahman El-Assir, refused to appear at the Paris court and warrants have been issued for their arrest, the AFP news agency reported.

What's the 'Karachi affair'?

Investigations into the so-called "Karachi affair" began after 11 French engineers were killed in a Karachi bombing in 2002.

Pakistani authorities blamed Islamist militants, but there were suspicions that the car bombing, which wrecked a bus, was an act of revenge after then-French President Jacques Chirac ordered the payments of secret arms deal commissions to stop.

Mr Balladur is alleged to have earlier approved payment of the commissions to intermediaries in the sale of three submarines to Pakistan, and that from them so-called "retro-commissions" came back to France to fund his 1995 presidential bid.

The kickbacks are estimated to have cost 13m francs, or almost €2m.

Mr Sarkozy has faced legal scrutiny over the Karachi affair. He has denied any connection to the deal.

A lawyer representing the victims of the deadly Karachi bombing praised the French court's decision on Monday.

Olivier Morice said that "if the families had not lodged a complaint, there would not have been this judgment", adding that families were now waiting for the trial of Mr Balladur and Mr Léotard.

Mr Balladur was the French prime minister from 1993 to 1995. Both he and Mr Léotard were charged in May 2017 with "complicity in misuse of corporate assets and concealment" over the Pakistan deal.

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