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Former French minister acquitted in arms scandal

A French appeals court has overturned the conviction of former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and two businessmen for links to arms trafficking in Angola. Pasqua has always denied the charges.

Photo from Angola's civil war taken in 1993

Angola's civil war lasted from 1975 to 2002

Former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, an icon of French politics for decades, was accused and initially convicted of receiving illegal payments in return for lobbying for a 530 million euro ($790 million) sale of arms to Angola during its civil war in the 1990s.

In 2009, Pasqua, who is now 84, had been sentenced to three years in prison, of which two were suspended, in what became known as the "Angolagate" trial for his influence-peddling in the corruption case.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua

For Pasqua (r), the verdict ends a nearly three-year legal ordeal

After three months of hearings, the appeals court in Paris on Friday overturned the conviction, agreeing with Pasqua's lawyers that the accusations were unfounded.

The court also reduced the six-year jail term handed to another defendant in the case, the French-Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, to three years. Gaydamak has been on the run since the scandal broke and did not attend the trial.

A third key defendant, the businessman Pierre Falcone, had his sentence for illegal arms sales and bribery reduced from six years to 30 months.

Pasqua himself denied accepting any bribes and accused former French President Jacques Chirac and former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who is now foreign minister, of dragging him into the affair to harm his career.

The original trial, which began in October 2008, involved 42 defendants, many of them former French officials.

Author: Gregg Benzow (AFP, AP)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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