Procurement: French Politicians Caught Gunrunning in Africa


April 9, 2007: While Cold War surplus weapons from Eastern Europe were widely sold, often illegally, during the 1990s, some Western nations got in on the illicit trade. French prosecutors are currently investigating 42 French politicians and government officials who did a little gunrunning themselves between 1993 and 2000. The weapons, including warships and tanks, went to the Angolan government, which had previously been backed by the Soviet Union (which ceased to exist in 1991).

The weapons sold at premium prices, to provide large enough profits to pay all the bribes needed to get the weapons past regulations and laws that were in the way. Apparently, French officials were for sale, were bought, and helped get nearly a billion dollars worth of weapons into Angola. During the 27 years of civil war, over half a million Angolans were killed.

The Angolan Civil War was largely based on tribal coalitions. It began shortly after Portugal gave up its colonial rule in 1974. One of those coalitions grabbed the Angolan oil fields early on, and opted to call on the Soviet Union as an ally. When the Soviet military aid disappeared, the government agreed to a vote, with the rebel groups (which controlled most of the country, but not the oil fields) participating. The rebels soon pulled out of this deal, not trusting the government (and not getting the majority of the votes either), and the war continued. The government used its oil money to buy weapons wherever it could. It was believed that most of this stuff was being supplied by Russian gunrunners. But the new investigation revealed that the French officials offered protection, and essential business contacts to the Russian gunrunners, who were moving the weapons to Angola. In return, millions of dollars went to the French officials.

Before the current investigation, there was much speculation about why the Russian gunrunners always seemed to find a safe haven in France, despite the fact that they were obviously engaging in an illegal arms trade to Africa. If the French prosecutor can prove his case, we'll finally know why.


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