'Angolagate' follows the money

Switzerland on Wednesday gave French authorities bank documents seized in an investigation of alleged money laundering linked to illicit arms sales to Angola.

The Justice Ministry said the handover included information on seven frozen bank accounts and was made possible by a government decision that helping France in its “Angolagate” inquiry would not compromise Switzerland’s national interests.

It did not identify the accounts or reveal the blocked sums.

“Switzerland’s interests would be compromised if money possibly arising from offences could be deposited in Switzerland without foreign authorities being able to gather information,” a government statement said.

The alpine country, which long had a reputation as a haven for shady money, has cracked down in the past decade, particularly since a landmark 1998 anti-laundering law.

Justice officials in Geneva first authorised the handover in 2002, but lawyers for those under investigation in France asked Swiss courts to block judicial assistance. Switzerland’s supreme court rejected their attempts in 2003, and lawyers turned to the government.

The French investigation centres on the sale of $500-million in illegal arms to Angola, allegedly brokered by billionaire businessman Pierre Falcone.

The probe has also targeted the eldest son of late French President Francois Mitterrand.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, who served as counselor on African affairs from 1986-92 under his father, is alleged to have received $1,8-million in illicit commissions from Falcone between 1993 and 1998—in the midst of Angola’s civil war.
The two-decade conflict ended last year.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand spent three weeks in jail in 2000 before posting $725 000 bail. Falcone was also detained, but was released in 2001 after the maximum limit of his temporary detention expired.

Both have denied any wrongdoing. - Sapa-AP

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