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Sarkozy under pressure to testify in kickbacks trial

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under pressure to give testimony over alleged corruption linked to a bombing in Karachi, Pakistan in 1995, which killed at least 14 people.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy is grappling with yet another scandal

France's head of state Nicolas Sarkozy was urged Thursday to testify in a political corruption scandal that threatens to damage his presidency. It's alleged that Sarkozy approved kickbacks to fund former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur's presidential campaign in 1995, which are believed to have led to a bombing in Karachi in 2002 that killed 11 French engineers and at least 3 Pakistanis.

"We have been accusing Nicolas Sarkozy of being at the heart of a system of corruption for months," Olivier Morice, the lawyer representing the families of those killed in Karachi said on French radio.

To top up Balladur's campaign coffers, Sarkozy, who was his spokesman at the time, allegedly decided to sell submarines to Pakistan, bribing Pakistani officials to speed up the sale. Sarkozy apparently promised extra large bribes, if some of that money would be channeled back into Balladur's campaign, a practice known as 'retro-commissions' in France.

When Balladur lost out to Jacques Chirac in the presidential elections, bribes were still owed to the Pakistanis, but never paid. In retaliation, it's alleged, they set off the bomb in Karachi.

hands exchanging money

Sarkozy allegedly paid bribes to Pakistanis to further Balladur's presidential campaign

Under pressure despite presidential immunity

Sarkozy has previously dismissed the allegations as "a grotesque fairy-tale", but now former French Defense Minister Charles Millon has said that those retro-commissions did exist. Investigators have been examining allegations of kickbacks since 2008.

Under French law, the president does not have to testify during his time in office, nor can he be sued or tried. But pressure has been mounting for Sarkozy to speak up, as he can decide to do so voluntarily.

At the moment, official documents relating to the retro-commission allegations are classed as state secrets, but the opposition insists that "French political life has to be freed of that suspicion", according to the leader of the centrist opposition Francois Bayrou.

"Indeed, it is no longer a suspicion, it's an accusation. The documents relating to this affair must be declassified."

Documents which could shed light on the affair are in the possession of the Constitutional Court which came close, in 1995, to rejecting the financial accounts for Balladur's campaign.

But the accounts were finally approved by Constitutional Court head Roland Dumas, who was involved in another retro-commission scandal involving the sale of naval frigates to Taiwan. The current head of the Constitutional Court is an ally of President Sarkozy, who says these documents should not see the light of day for another 25 years.

Author: John Laurenson (ng)
Editor: Rob Turner

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