October 9, 2008:
France is trying 42 people for running an
illegal arms export operation in Angola during the 1990s. At the time, Angola
was under a UN arms embargo, because of the civil war there. The main reason
the trial is in France is because most of the accused are French government
officials, or family members of such. Chief among these is Jean Christophe
Mitterrand, the son of the late French president (1981-95) Francois Mitterrand.
The younger Mitterrand used his connections, and was paid $2.6 million, to
bring together Angolan officials and two men (a French businessman and an
Israeli financier) who arranged for $790 million worth of weapons to be bought in Eastern Europe and shipped
to Angola between 1993-98.
Billions of dollars worth of weapons
were available in Eastern Europe after the Cold War communist governments there
collapsed in 1989-91. With the Cold War over, many of those surplus weapons
were stolen, or illegally sold (via bribed officials) and made available to the
international black market. Well placed middlemen like Jean Christophe
Mitterrand made millions setting up some of these deals. Many other senior
French officials were involved as well.
Such shady arms deals are nothing new, but they flourished in the 1990s
because of the enormous quantities of Cold War surplus weapons available in
East Europe and Russia. Africa was a big market because there have always been
a lot of wars there. This warfare was interrupted by the European
colonialization (from the early19th century to the 1960s.) But once the
Europeans left, the wars resumed. There were lots of natural resources the
factions could sell off to buy weapons. The flood of cheap weapons in the 1990s
ended up killing millions of Africans. But all that death made fortunes for the
gunrunners of Paris.