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      French Court Tries Gaydamak in Huge Arms-To-Angola Scandal

      Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaydamak is tried in France for his key involvement in smuggling arms to war-torn Angola.
      By Ze'ev Ben-Yechiel
      First Publish: 10/6/2008, 4:10 PM

      The same day that Russian-Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak announced his candidacy in the Jerusalem mayoral race, a massive trial began in France in which he is key defendant over the alleged smuggling of arms into Angola. As the trial opened in Paris on Monday, Gaydamak joined a host of French officials, including the son of former French President Francois Mitterand, who are accused of the illegal sale of massive amounts of arms to the impoverished African country in the 1990’s during its prolonged civil war.

       

      Gaydamak faces up to 10 years in prison for acting as a primary go-between in illegal arms sales amounting to $790 million. His French business partner does, too.

       

      According to prosecutors, Gaydamak and Pierre Falcone were instrumental in the “Angolagate” scandal, in which some 420 tanks, six warships, 12 helicopters, and hundreds of thousands of land mines were sold through Eastern European countries to Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos from 1992 to 2000.

       

      The sales, which violated a French ban, helped fuel a devastating civil war that took the lives of an estimated 500,000 Angolans. Among the defendants are Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, son of the former President of France, who is charged with “complicity in illegal trade and embezzlement,” and former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, who is accused of involvement with Angolan authorities in the deals.

       

      Falcone is the head of the weapons firm Brenco International, and authorities believe that while Gaydamak was a resident of France he assisted Falcone in funneling arms to Angola via another company, in Slovakia. Prosecutors believe that the money from the arms sales was then channeled through a variety of firms in locations such as Paris, Geneva, Tel Aviv, the Virgin Islands and Monaco.

       

      The trial in Paris is not the first time the billionaire businessman has been implicated in illegal business deals. Two months ago, the Department of Taxation and Finance at the Justice Ministry announced that they would indict Gaydamak for money laundering and fraud for failing to disclose a bank transfer he made worth nearly half a million shekels. A number of Bank Hapoalim officials have reportedly been implicated in the pending affair.

       

      Gaydamak holds French, Canadian, and Israeli passports, and also travels on an Angolan diplomatic passport. He is considered by many to be an elusive figure and a key player in the shadow market of the international arms trade.