‘Karachi affair’ suspect charged, held in France

French authorities charged a Franco-Lebanese businessman Friday at the centre of a high-profile political scandal, a day after detaining him on suspicion he was trying to flee the country, a legal source said.

'Karachi affair' suspect charged, held in France
Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP

On Thursday, police detained Ziad Takieddine on suspicion that he was making plans to flee the country, despite a ban on foreign travel, by trying to obtain a diplomatic passport, said a source close to the case.

Police who conducted a search of his Paris home on April 11th had found an email that suggested he had paid €200,000 ($260,000) to try to get the document from the Dominican Republic.

As a result, Paris prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation in early May into the alleged corruption of a foreign public official and for fraud.

He was questioned by investigating magistrates on Friday morning before being charged and remanded in custody for those offences the same evening, said the source.

The case has been attached to two other ongoing investigations into Takieddine's affairs.

Contacted by AFP, one of his lawyers, Francis Vuillemin, said Takieddine's efforts to obtain a Dominican passport had been to facilitate plans to make investments in the country and had nothing to do with any plans to flee France.

His client had always respected the terms of his bail, he added.

"Ziad Takieddine has therefore absolutely not 'bought' a passport, nor sought to quit French territory," he said.

Takieddine is embroiled in several scandals in France, some of which allegedly involve former President Nicolas Sarkozy and other high-profile politicians.

Perhaps the most notorious matter is the so-called Karachi affair, in which he has been charged with corruption over commissions he allegedly received in 1994 arms deals.

Investigators are looking at whether those commissions were used illegally to fund former prime minister Edouard Balladur's 1995 presidential campaign.

Nicolas Sarkozy, was Balladur's campaign spokesman at that time.

Takieddine has also in the past claimed to have proof Sarkozy received illicit funding from Libya's then dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

Magistrates have opened a separate investigation into that affair.

Takieddine is also being investigated for suspected money laundering after he was detained with €1.5 million euros in cash on a private flight out of Libya in March 2011, French judicial sources said late last year.

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Bolloré hits back at ‘condescending treatment of Africans’

French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has gone on the offensive over corruption charges brought against him over his business dealings in Africa, claiming the case was rooted in prejudice about the continent.

Bolloré hits back at 'condescending treatment of Africans'
Conakry, the port in Guinea at the centre of the graft accusations. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP
In an opinion article published on Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the head of the Bolloré Group, who was charged in connection with the awarding of two lucrative port concessions in West Africa, said the continent was wrongfully portrayed in France as a “land of misrule, even corruption”.
“People imagine heads of state deciding by themselves to award huge contracts to unscrupulous investors,” he wrote. 
Investigating magistrates on Thursday charged the 66-year-old over allegations that his group's communications arm undercharged the presidents of Guinea and Togo for work on their election campaigns as sweeteners for contracts to operate Conakry port and Lomé port.
Defending himself against the claims, Bolloré wrote: “Who could imagine that a few hundred thousand euros in spending on communications, which were accounted for in a transparent manner… determined hundreds of millions of euros in investment in port operations that require significant technical know-how, obtained through international tenders?”
Bolloré, one of France's most powerful businessmen, sits at the head of a sprawling business empire with revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.4 billion) in 2017 and interests in everything from construction and logistics to media, advertising and agriculture.
Africa accounts for about 20 percent of its turnover, excluding the Vivendi media group which is controlled by the family-run Bolloré Group.
France 'will need Africa'
In the letter titled “Should we get out of Africa?”, Bolloré said the French investigation had made him question whether he should pursue his activities on the continent, where he had invested 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).
“I have realised over the past few days that what we have been doing in good faith for a long time, seen through the prism of those who consider the continent to be run by lawless people, is fertile ground for legitimate  suspicion,” he wrote.
Slamming the “inaccurate and condescending treatment of Africans” he warned that “soon, France will need Africa more than the other way round.”  
The nearly 200-year-old Bolloré Group operates a dozen container ports in Africa and has stakes in several others, along with three railway concessions and interests in palm oil production.
Its communications arm Havas worked on Guinean President Alpha Condé's winning 2010 election campaign.
Months after taking office, Condé terminated the contract of Conakry's existing port operator and gave it to rival Bolloré. Havas also worked on the communications strategy of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.
After Gnassingbe's re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract. Both decisions were challenged by other bidders.