French Local Elections: Two Due for Court Appearances

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Local elections in France are always analysed with great attention by the media as they act as handy and insightful barometers of the mood of the people two years into the current regime’s tenure.

This week, the drama of some being called to account has added a layer of intrigue to an otherwise relatively dull round of claims and counter-claims about who knows best how to lead the country, whether or not the curve of unemployment has been reversed yet, or whether or not the head of state is fooling around with actresses.

First up is Nicolas Sarkozy. You have to hand it to the guy: he has always been a man of action and a man who pulled no punches when it came to telling people how it was. When he was having an affair, his attitude was “Yes I am and here she is! Isn’t she lovely?” Back when he was Interior Minister before he became president, he declared war on speeding and drink-driving and was as good as his word, turning a nation of drivers who prided themselves on driving as fast as possible on all roads all the time into a group of the most law-abiding drivers north of the Mediterranean.

Even though he has made public declaration about running for the presidency again, the dogs on the street are already chanting his name and with each passing week, he’s looking more and more like a comeback candidate for the next presidential election in 2017. One area where there were always suspicions and stories thrown around was that of his relationship with big business and there is at at least one more chicken out there that may yet come home to roost.

A judge involved in the affair that has become known as the Karachi Affair has signalled last week that the diminutive ex-president may be called to account in his enquiry. The arms deal goes back to the presidential campaign of Edouard Balladur in 1995 and the persistent accusations that it was financed illegally from the proceeds of arms sales commissions.

Former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur and his Defence Minister François Léotard are the ones under suspicion of using kickbacks on commission resulting from the sale of Agosta-class submarines to Pakistan in 1994. The €800 million deal involving the three submarines generated commissions of an estimated €50 million.

Another Fine Mess? Edouard Balladur (r) and François Léotard may soon have their day in the Cour de justice de la République along with former president Nicolas Sarkozy

Another Fine Mess? Edouard Balladur (r) and François Léotard may soon have their day in the Cour de justice de la République along with former president Nicolas Sarkozy

Although the main benefactors of this sum were believed to be Pakistani politicians and military figures, the allegation is that a good chunk of these millions were deftly diverted into the coffers of Balladur’s (unsuccessful) presidential election campaign. This angered the then-President (and political rival for the candidacy) Jacques Chirac, who cancelled commissions in 2002. This didn’t please certain shadowy powerful figures in Pakistani politics and a terrorist attack in Karachi in May of that year killed 11 French technicians. Many commentators have drawn a clear link between the two events. Sarkozy was then Budget Minister under the 1993-95 Balladur government: hence, his impending contribution at the enquiry.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, meanwhile, is being requested to account for himself on a less serious matter. These days, the leader of the far-right Front National holds the title of “President of Honour” of the party of which his daughter Marine Le Pen is the current leader.

Late last week, he issued a statement wishing to reassure his supporters that his accounts and the finances of his estate would prove to be perfectly in order, following the announcement from the Parquet de Paris that they were going to conduct an inquest into his financial affairs.

“I learn from the press, who have been informed apparently long before I have from a ‘source in the judiciary’ that an inquiry is said to have been opened to investigate the reasons for my wealth, according to them.

“I would like to reassure the French people (assuming that such an enquiry is underway and fortuitously timed with only six weeks to go before the local elections and three months before the European elections) that it will conclude with my estate proving to be perfectly transparent and that nothing out of place is likely to come up, just like every other time.”

The reason for this enquiry stems from an alert dating from the end of last November, from the former Commission pour Transparence Financière de la vie Politique (the Commission for Financial Transparency in Political Life). It seems that what prompted this alert was the differences stated in the declarations of wealth made by Mr Le Pen at the start and at the end of his first term as Euro-deputy, in 2004 and 2009, according to the same judiciary source. According to the Commission, Mr Le Pen did not clarify the reason for the increase in the value of his estate during that period.

Mr Le Pen – the founder of the far-right party Front National – became a millionaire in 1976, after he inherited the considerable estate of his friend Hubert Lambert; a will that was initially contested by Mr Lambert’s family before an amiable agreement was reached

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