The arms dealer, the French presidency and the dirty truth

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In July, Mediapart began the publication of a series of investigative articles about the very close and longstanding links between Franco-Lebanese arms dealer Ziad Takieddine and the inner circle of advisors and aides surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy - before and after he became French president. Takieddine is a key witness in an ongoing French judicial probe into suspected illegal party financing through commissions paid in a major French weapons sale, and Mediapart's revelations raise disturbing questions about other deals he was involved in. In a brief interview with Mediapart in July, Takieddine declared: "I'm a clean man and you're dirty. You're one of the filthy who are most productive in the muck." Here, Mediapart Editor-in-Chief Edwy Plenel sets out the key issues exposed by the investigations, and argues why an unprecedented chain of corruption is strangling France's institutions.

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In July, Mediapart began the publication of a series of investigative articles (see list, left) about the very close and longstanding links between Franco-Lebanese arms dealer Ziad Takieddine and the inner circle of advisors and aides surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy - before and after he became French president. Takieddine is a key witness in an ongoing French judicial probe into suspected illegal party financing through commissions paid in a major French weapons sale, and Mediapart's revelations raise disturbing questions about other deals he was involved in. In a brief interview with Mediapart in July, Takieddine declared: "I'm a clean man and you're dirty. You're one of the filthy who are most productive in the muck." Here, Mediapart Editor-in-Chief Edwy Plenel sets out the key issues exposed by the investigations, and argues why an unprecedented chain of high-level corruption is strangling France's institutions.

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Mediapart's series of revelations about arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, based on exclusive documents, unveil the truth about Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. It is a dirty truth.

The central theme of the documents that we began publishing in early July is that of money made in the dark from arms sales. The documents in our possession expose a system in which financial gain is the only motivation, and it is made to the detriment of the laws of the land and public morals.

Such practices, and the temptation to engage in them, have always existed. The political-financial scandals of the presidencies of François Mitterrand (1981-1995) and Jacques Chirac (1995-2007) provide abundant proof of this. But never have they been established at the heart of power to such an extent, as attested by the central role played by Ziad Takieddine in the Sarkozy political machine and now revealed by Mediapart. Never before have they extended to the point of poisoning the pinnacle of the State, its rules of functioning, and its administrative procedures. In short, the Takieddine documents reveal the promotion of corruption at the heart of executive power in France.

With no other skill to offer than that of acting as an intermediary with authoritarian or dictatorial regimes which exchange business deals in return for diplomatic recognition, Mr. Takieddine has remained a member of Nicolas Sarkozy's inner circle since the period of 1994-1995. That was when he operated on the Pakistani contracts that lie at the heart of the scandal that has become known as the Karachi affair.

But the Franco-Lebanese businessman is more than a simple intermediary; he is also a secret advisor. He prepares confidential notes, plans secret strategies, takes part in meetings within government offices, offers political opinion and recommendations concerning international diplomacy, prepares meetings with foreign heads of state, organizes preparatory visits, translates highly sensitive documents from Arabic to French, acts as an unofficial go-between for official messages, and so on.

Since Nicolas Sarkozy's return to the international stage in 2002, the activities of this arms dealing intermediary made him a constant and a key player in the Sarkozy camp, whether that be when the latter was interior minister, or after he became president of France in 2007. That role was played out via Nicolas Sarkozy's principal administrative aide, Claude Guéant, the current French interior minister who was previously Mr. Sarkozy's irreplaceable ministerial principal private secretary and later his chief-of-staff of the presidential office.

As revealed by Mediapart since July, after his initial dealings with Pakistan, Mr. Takieddine turned his attentions to Saudi Arabia, then Libya, and Syria, and to his native country, the Lebanon. In each case, what was involved was the promotion of an accommodating, if not complicit, French foreign policy towards undemocratic regimes, many of which are now shaken by the movement of popular revolt that has become known as the Arab Spring. Among these regimes were notably the vilest of them all, those of Syria and Libya. But above all, in every case, what was at stake was the obtaining, or attempt to obtain, arms or oil contracts with which Mr. Takieddine was guaranteed significant enrichment through commissions which ended up paid in tax havens.

Clearly, Ziad Takieddine's role was not limited, as it initially appeared to be, to the Karachi affair alone. The financial aspects of the sale of three French Agosta-class submarines to Pakistan, the departure point of the Karachi scandal, are now - following Mediapart's revelations in the case - the object of a judicial investigation. Mr. Takieddine was imposed as an intermediary in that 1994 deal by the government of then-French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.

Takieddine was made an intermediary with a view to the financing of Balladur's presidential election campaign in 1995, with a flow of commission payments that were fed through a front company which was set up under the supervision of Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then budget minister. Mr. Takieddine has been involved in every similar operation attempted since 2002 by Mr. Sarkozy's entourage. The documents obtained by Mediapart prove that all of these were for the same end; secret financing, with the aim of maintaining an enduring period at the height of political power - which would in turn guarantee the protection and continuation of these illicit practices.

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