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Africa Last Updated: Nov 10, 2008 - 10:01:42 AM

The ‘Angolagate’ Trial
By Paula Roque, ISS 10/11/08
Nov 10, 2008 - 9:59:58 AM

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After a seven-year investigation, the trial of those involved in the so-called Angolagate-affair started last month in France. Several prominent French nationals including Jean-Christophe Mitterand, the son of former French President Francois Mitterand and former interior minister Charles Pasqua were allegedly involved in the 1990s arms-for-oil deal worth $790 million at the height of Angola’s civil war. The deal violated a United Nations arms embargo; it fuelled Luanda’s potential for waging war while peace negotiations between the ruling MPLA and rebel movement UNITA were under way; it propagated an already endemic culture of corruption and impunity and it contributed to the looting of Angola’s natural resources.

The trial will last over 5 months, and has so far 42 accused including Mitterand, Pasqua, French businessmen Pierre Falcone, the Israeli billionaire Arcady Gaydamak, and former presidential advisor and the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jacques Attali. No Angolans have so far been summoned and it is probable that they may never stand trial, although among those implicated in the scandal are the Angolan President José Eduarado Dos Santos, General Kopelipa, head of the Intelligence Services and the second man in the Presidency, Antonio Neto, president of the National Bank of Angola, and several other senior officials. The Angolan ruling elite and the powerful Dos Santos have shown that they have been until now untouchable. In a move to assure this, they extended their mantle of impunity to Falcone by making him the Angolan Ambassador to UNESCO. Both Falcone and Gaydamak were declared “heroes” in Angola for having made ‘an enormous contribution to preserving democracy and the rule of law’ in Angola. 

The affair started when war resumed in Angola after the 1992 elections and UNITA managed to occupy over 70% of the national territory. Dos Santos then allegedly made an appeal to the French government, who turned him down given that they were supporting UNITA. However, through unofficial channels Luanda managed to get Jean-Bernard Curial, Africa advisor to the French Socialist party and Jean-Christophe Mitterrand to assist it, at which point the government at the time was introduced to Falcone. The service provided by Falcone and Gaydamak as intermediaries for an insolvent Angolan government and Russian state arms supplier, Spetsvneshtekhnika, allegedly included the bribing of both right-wing and left-wing French politicians, an aspect of this case, that if proved to be true, could have great national implications for France. 

The first deal worth $46 million went through in late 1993 and in April of 1994 during a state visit to Paris, Dos Santos allegedly arranged for Falcone and Gaydamak to receive 20,000 barrels of oil a day over a period of 4 years from national oil company Sonangol. As a result, Luanda managed to secure 450 armored vehicles, 12 helicopters, six warships, 170,000 anti-personnel land mines, and 150,000 howitzers to fight a war that killed over 1 million Angolans. 

Luanda is using its ‘state sovereignty’ to avoid facing trial, given that the case is before French courts and it is not an international trial. Angola has gone as far as to threaten to take France to the International Criminal Court if the case isn’t dismissed by invoking French confidentiality laws protecting military secrets of foreign countries, and national security. 

This is a highly embarrassing moment for France and a test of how far President Nicholas Sarkozy’s government is willing to go in order to avoid denting the little progress that was achieved during his May visit to Angola. The French Minister of Justice is adamant in proceeding with this case while the Minister of Defense, Herve Morin, is apparently attempting to have it simply ‘go away’. This was evident from an exposé by the French weekly Le Point that published a letter by Morin to the Parisian investigative judge Philippe Courroye claiming that ‘Angolagate’ had never happened. French companies operating in Angola, like Total, have already been warned by unnamed sources in Luanda that their ability to continue doing business will depend on what the court decides when it hands down its sentences on March 4th 2009.  

The investigation revealed, amongst other things, how more than $21 million worth of illicit arms sales from Russia to Angola were transferred through Portuguese banks, in particular the state-run Caixa Geral de Depositos, and Banco Comercial Portugues. It is thought that other European banks were also involved.  

Whatever the outcome of this trial, even if Angola’s oil-backed pressure on France manages to sabotage the legal proceedings, one thing that will have been exposed is the perverse relationship that geopolitical interests of powerful nations have with an ethically blind oil trading and international banking system. Angola’s attempt to re-write its history and ‘cleanse’ Dos Santos’ legacy through Luanda’s recent acquisition of democratic credentials by holding election after 16 years, will once again be delayed. What will not be challenged is the MPLA’s rule in Angola that claims to have another 25 years of uncontested power in Luanda. In this particular case it is France that will have to deal with the severest implications of having exposed the greed and shady political maneuverings of its ruling class who, for almost a decade, were complicit in corruption, illegal arms trading and money laundering.

Source:Ocnus.net 2008

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