Court in France orders prison terms for six over 1990s arms deal

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Donnedieu de Vabres was ordered to spend three years in prison [Thomas Coex/AFP]

Donnedieu de Vabres was ordered to spend three years in prison [Thomas Coex/AFP]

A Paris court has found three former French government officials and three others guilty on charges involving kickbacks from arms sales to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed in 1994.

The court on Monday handed the men prison sentences of two to five years over the so-called "Karachi affair" that has dogged former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who is facing trial on charges that he used the kickbacks to help fund his failed 1995 presidential bid.

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These were the first convictions to emerge from the sprawling investigation named after the Pakistani city where a bus carrying French defence engineers was blown up in 2002, killing 15 people.

Al-Qaeda was initially suspected of the attack, but the focus later shifted to the arms deals on suspicions the bombing may have been in retaliation to non-payment of promised bribes.

Sentences

The three former aides are Nicolas Bazire, Balladur's former campaign manager; Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, a former adviser to his Minister of Defence Francois Leotard; and Thierry Gaubert, a former aide to then-budget minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bazire and Donnedieu de Vabres were ordered to spend three years in prison, with the court saying Bazire "knew perfectly well" that 10.25 million francs (nearly 1.6 million euros, $1.8m) from dubious sources had landed in Balladur's campaign accounts.

Gaubert was handed a two-year sentence, as was Dominique Castellan, a former head of the international division of French naval defence contractor DCN (since renamed Naval Group).

Two Lebanese middlemen who allegedly acted as go-betweens for the bribes and kickbacks, Ziad Takieddine and Abdul Rahman El-Assir, were ordered to spend five years in prison.

The two middlemen refused to appear at trial, and warrants have been issued for their arrest.

Balladur, 90, and Leotard, 77, have also been charged in the case. They are to be tried in the coming months by the Court of Justice of the Republic, a tribunal that hears cases of alleged misconduct by government ministers.

SOURCE: News agencies

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