PARIS: 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.
He has on other occasions denied knowledge of any commissions or kickbacks and said he was not responsible for the “details” of the financing of his presidential campaign.
Others close to Balladur, including his campaign manager Nicolas Bazire, senior official Thierry Gaubert who worked for then-budget minister Sarkozy, and controversial Franco-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, will be tried in the same case later this month.
In a separate case, Sarkozy will learn later Tuesday whether he will be charged with illegal campaign financing.
Prosecutors claim Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million on his failed 2012 re-election bid — almost double the legal limit of 22.5 million euros — using fake invoices.
He has said he was unaware of the fraud by executives at the public relations firm Bygmalion, who are among 13 people also being investigated.
Sarkozy, who has been embroiled in several cases, has also been charged over accusations he accepted millions of euros from the late Libyan dictator Muammer Qaddafi towards his first presidential campaign in 2007.
He also faces a trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling over his alleged attempts to try get information from a judge about one of the investigations into his affairs.
Sarkozy’s predecessor, Chirac, who died last week, was the first former French president to be put on trial in 2011, relating to his time as mayor of Paris.
He was given a two-year suspended sentence for embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
Other senior politicians to have been charged with financial misconduct include right-wing former prime minister Francois Fillon and centre-right former premier Alain Juppe.
Fillon crashed out of the running for president in 2017 after being charged with giving his wife a fake job as his assistant, and Alain Juppe — a prime minister under Chirac — who was given a suspended jail sentence in 2004 over a party funding scandal.
On Monday, ex-justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas was given a suspended month-long sentence for passing on secret details of a tax fraud and corruption investigation to the politician targeted, right-wing MP Thierry Solere.