Karachi: bribes, bloodshed and the buried truth

By and

On May 8th, 2002, a group of 11 French naval engineers died in a bomb attack in the Pakistani port of Karachi. They had been helping with the construction of three Agosta 90 attack submarines, sold to Pakistan by France in 1994. An ongoing French judicial investigation into the blast is now working on the theory the murders were in retaliation for the non-payment by France of huge cash kickbacks promised to secure the deal. But evidence increasingly suggests that the bribe money was also ultimately destined for illegal political party funding in France.
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When the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari met his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace in August, there was one subject that was most officially not on the agenda. This was the so-called 'Karachi affair', a complex story involving murder and allegations of corruption on high and illegal party funding.

The affaire is sparked by a two-year investigation led by Paris-based investigating magistrate Marc Trévidic into a bomb attack in Karachi on May 8th, 2002 which left 15 people dead, including 11 French employees of the defence contractor DCN (Direction des constructions navales). They were working in Karachi on the construction of three Agosta class submarines sold to Pakistan by France in a deal concluded in September, 1994 by the government of France's then prime minister Edouard Balladur.

The magistrate has definitively ruled out the involvement of Al Qaeda, contrary to what was suggested by officials in both countries at the time. Trévidic is now working on the theory that the Karachi victims were targeted as part of a settling of accounts for the non-payment by France of kickbacks to Pakistani intermediaries involved in establishing the Agosta contract.

MM. Sarkozy et Zardari

Storm brewing? Presidents Sarkozy and Zardari at the Elysee Palace, August 2010.© Reuters

Like Sarkozy and Balladur in France, President Zardari, who was implicated at the time in several financial affairs, earning him the name 'Mr 10%', denies any involvement. "When these events took place [in 2002] I was in prison," Zardari told French daily Le Monde in an interview published on August 4th this year. "I don't see how I could have a link to this affair. For us this attack has nothing to do with the submarine contract […...] it was a pure act of terrorism."

While, at present, there is no material proof of a link between the attack and the submarine contract, investigating judge Trévidic has already gathered an important mass of documents and witnesses that reveal the shady financial and political actions surrounding the conclusion of the Agosta deal. Two key names have emerged from the inquiry.

In France it is Nicolas Sarkozy, who was budget minister between 1993 and 1995 and as such the person who approved the financial arrangements for arms contracts, including the payment of hidden commissions. In Pakistan it is Asif Ali Zardari, a government minister at the time and, importantly, husband of the prime minister of the day, Benazir Bhutto, whom he married in 1987.

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Mediapart's extensive and revealing investigations into the Karachi affair are contained in the book 'Le Contrat - Karachi, l'affaire que Sarkozy voudrait oublier', available in French only, published in May, 2010 by Stock.

The businessman Ziad Takieddine, who denies having been involved in the sale of the Agosta submarines despite numerous witness accounts and documents that demonstrate that he was, took legal action in France in an attempt to block the book's publication.

His bid was rejected by the president of the 17th chamber of the Paris law courts, Nicolas Bonnal, on May 18th, 2010.