The Angolagate scandal rocked the French political world when it came to light in 1999. It revealed a plot t, involving several senior French political figures to covertly supply arms to the Angolan government for use in its renewed war against UNITA rebels, circumventing an arms embargo. Beyond the illegality of the arms sales themselves, the Angolagate deals involved both bribery of Angolan political and military figures, and reverse kickbacks allegedly in support of French political campaign funds. A French court convicted 36 individuals in 2008 in connection with the scandal on a variety of charges, but some of these convictions were overturned on appeal in 2011.
Seller countries: France (broker), Russia, Slovakia, Bulgaria (source of arms)
Seller companies: Brenco, France (broker)
Year of order: 1993
Equipment sold: (Second hand)
- 6 warships,
- 12 helicopters,
- 420 tanks,
- 150,000 shells,
- 170,000 anti-personnel mines
Value of deal: USD 790 million
Sum involved in corruption allegations: USD 56 million
Pierre Falcone – businessman and main broker of the arms deals; convicted of arms trafficking, breach of trust, misuse of corporate assets, and bribery. Sentenced to six years imprisonment. Subsequently cleared on appeal in 2011 of arms trafficking, sentence reduced to 2.5 years imprisonment.
Arcadi Gaydamak – businessman and broker in arms deals; convicted (in absentia) in France in 2009 of arms trafficking, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering. Sentenced to six years imprisonment. Subsequently cleared on appeal in 2011 of arms trafficking, sentence reduced to 3 years imprisonment.
Charles Pasqua – French Interior Minister (1986-1988, 1993-1995). Used influence to shield Brenco from French authorities and received election funding in return; convicted in October 2009 in France of influence peddling and misuse of public assets. Sentenced to 3 years in prison, 2 suspended. Cleared of all charges on appeal in 2011.
Jean-Cristophe Mitterrand – son of French President Francois Mitterrand (1981-1995), and advisor on African affairs. Facilitated contacts between arms dealers and Angolan government, and received payments from Falcone; charged with Arms Trafficking and misuse of corporate assets; acquitted of arms trafficking charges, convicted of misuse of corporate assets, October 2009. Sentenced to a 2-year suspended prison term and a EUR 375,000 fine.
Jean-Bernard Curial – French Socialist Party official. Intermediary with the Angolan government; convicted October 2009 of complicity with arms trafficking, misuse of corporate assets, sentenced to 2 years probation and a EUR 100,000 fine.
Jean-Charles Marchiani – former member of the French secret service, former MEP, former aide to Charles Pasqua, associate of Arcadi Gaydamak. Acted as intermediary between Angolan President Dos Santos and Charles Pasqua. Received donations from Falcone for his European Parliament campaign in 1999. Convicted in October 2009 for complicity in influence peddling and misuse of corporate assets, sentenced to 3 years in prison, of which 21 months were suspended. Acquitted on appeal in April 2011 of influence peddling charges. Sentence reduced to 24 months, with 16 suspended.
Allain Guilloux – lawyer for Falcone and Gaydamak, as well as Brenco. Assisted in constructing financial structures for the deal, using tax havens; convicted of money laundering in October 2009, sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, of which 2 were suspended, plus a EUR 500,000 fine. Reduced to 2 years, of which 16 months suspended, on appeal in April 2011.
José Eduardo dos Santos – president of Angola (1979-2017).
The Arms Deal
The Angolagate affair began in 1993 when the Angolan government, faced with a renewed civil war against the rebel group National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, UNITA), reached out to Jean-Bernard Curiel, a contact in the French Socialist Party (of then-President Francois Mitterrand), to obtain arms despite a UN embargo on the country. Curiel in turn reached out to Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, son of the president, and his chief Africa advisor. The younger Mitterrand secured the services of arms broker Pierre Falcone, who brought in the Israeli arms dealer Arcadi Gaydamak as a partner. The two established a front company in Eastern Europe for channeling arms from various Eastern European countries to Angola, and another company, Brenco, in Paris, to handle the contracts and finances. Large volumes of arms and other military equipment (details above) were transferred over the period 1993-1998, with a total value of USD 790 million.
Bribes totaling USD 56 million were paid to Angolan decision-makers, including President Dos Santos. Meanwhile, payments and political contributions were also made to various French politicians and officials to ensure that the deals were not investigated by French authorities, and as payment for services in helping arrange the deals. Most notable amongst the French recipients was Charles Pasqua, the Interior Minister from 1993 to 1995, who allegedly helped shield Brenco from the authorities and procured an official honor for Gaydamak, in return for election contributions.
The Investigation and outcomes
The investigation into Angolagate began in 1999 when a raid by French police into an unrelated affair uncovered a dossier of information on Gaydamak, who shared a lawyer (Allain Guilloux) with one of the parties in the original case. A 10-year investigation by police, prosecutors and examining magistrates in France led to a trial in 2009, based on a 468-page indictment, with 42 defendants.
Thirty-six of the suspects were convicted, with Falcone, Gaydamak, Pasqua, Guilloux, and another diplomatic intermediary, Jean-Charles Marchiani, sentenced to prison terms. Charges included arms trafficking, complicity with arms trafficking, influence peddling (including bribery), abuse of corporate assets, abuse of public assets, money laundering, and tax fraud. In the ruling, the judges made clear that the French Presidency was aware of the arms deals from at the latest the end of 1995. By this time Jacques Chirac had succeeded Francois Mitterrand as President. Whether President Mitterrand was aware of the illegal transactions is not clear. However, Pasqua was acquitted on appeal in 2011, as the judge ruled it was not possible to establish a clear relationship between the award of a French state honor (The Medal of Merit) to Gaydamak and a subsequent donation by Gaydamak to an organization controlled by Pasqua, used to fund his election campaign. Falcone, Gaydamak, Guilloux, and Marchiani were all acquitted on some charges, and had their sentences reduced. In particular, Falcone and Gaydamak were acquitted of arms trafficking, as the court determined they were acting as agents of a sovereign government, Angola, in acquiring the arms.
”French elite on trial: the sordid tale of Angolagate,” Der Spiegel (online), Oct. 17, 2008, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/french-elite-on-trial-the-sordid-tale-of-angolagate-a-584769.html.
“Chronologie de l’Angolagate”, L’Express (online), Oct. 27, 2009, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/justice/chronologie-de-l-angolagate_493244.html.
Elizabeth P. Allen and Nicole Intalan, “Anatomy of a scandal: Angolagate,” World Policy Journal, Vol. 27, No. 1, Spring 2010, pp. 14-16, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/379990.
“Angolagate: les principales étapes de l’affaire,” Le Point (online), Jan. 19, 2011, http://www.lepoint.fr/societe/angolagate-les-principales-etapes-de-l-affaire-19-01-2011-130233_23.php.
“Pasqua relaxé dans le procès en appel de l’Angolagate,” Le Figaro (online), Apr. 29, 2011, http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2011/04/29/01016-20110429ARTFIG00470-angolagate-pasqua-relaxe-peine-reduite-pour-falcone.php.
Thierry Brugvin, “Le procès de l’Angolagate : un symbole de la pression du pouvoir politique sur la justice,” Le Grand Soir, June 9, 2011, https://www.legrandsoir.info/le-proces-de-l-angolagate-un-symbole-de-la-pression-du-pouvoir-politique-sur-la-justice.html.