Day of judgment looms for ex-French FM Dumas


PARIS, AFP

A Paris court on Wednesday is to hand down its verdict in a massive corruption case that brought disgrace to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas and transfixed the public with its heady mix of sex, power and money.

Prosecutors in March asked the court to sentence Dumas to two years in prison and fine him 2.5 million francs (US$330,000) on charges relating to the misappropriation of funds from the former state-owned oil giant Elf Aquitaine.

Also facing prison sentences and fines in the case are Dumas’ former mistress, Christine Deviers-Joncour, former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent, former Elf executive Alfred Sirven and three others.

All pleaded not guilty during the trial — the most important of its type in France in recent years.

Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Champrenault justified the unusually stiff sentences he sought saying the accused had shown contempt for their positions and had milked the oil company to their advantage.

He said the former foreign minister, who was forced to step down as head of France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, because of the scandal, had “renounced the ethics, morality and duty necessary for him to carry out his functions. In short he renounced honesty.”

Dumas, 78, a close friend of the late French president Francois Mitterrand, is accused of using his influence in 1989 to secure a fictitious job for Deviers-Joncour at Elf and of benefiting from the 64.9 million francs (US$9.2 million) she was paid over the next four years.

Among the gifts Deviers Joncour lavished on her lover were a pair of custom-made shoes worth 1,500 dollars, antique Greek statuettes and the use of a luxury Paris flat.

Elf allegedly employed the former model, who published a confessional book entitled “The Whore of the Republic”, in a bid to influence the then minister.

According to allegations that are part of a separate case, some of the commissions paid to Deviers-Joncour were for pressuring Dumas to drop his opposition to a controversial US$2.7 billion-dollar sale of six French frigates to Taiwan.

The sale was eventually approved by Mitterrand, but Dumas insists he remained opposed to the deal.

Dumas testified during the trial that he did not know how his mistress had come into possession of so much money, and denied pressuring Elf to employ her.

Prosecutors had hoped Sirven — arrested during the course of the trial after nearly four years on the run — would shed light on the frigate sale but the former oil executive has refused to cooperate in that case.

His arrest in the Philippines marked a dramatic twist in the trial, with his co-defendants accusing him in his absence of being the paymaster of a massive slush fund at Elf, and of being the main villain in the case.

Sirven, who once said he knew enough “to bring down the French republic 20 times over,” has been detained at Paris’ La Sante prison pending the verdict.

The trial, which began Jan.23 and was postponed for a month after Sirven’s arrest in early February, cast an unflattering light on the culture of sleaze apparently endemic during Mitterrand’s 14 years in office.

It also put a focus on the widespread use of slush funds at state-owned companies to secure contracts and political influence at home and abroad.

Le Floch-Prigent told French newspapers last week that the practice had been sanctioned by successive French presidents.

He said that during his time in office, Elf had dipped into its slush fund to facilitate the purchase of the Leuna oil refinery in the former East Germany and the Spanish oil company Ertoil. The German deal is currently under investigation over allegations that money was paid to the CDU party of former chancellor Helmut Kohl.