France's secret diplomacy with Syria, and the arms dealer who played emissary

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In a series of exclusive reports that began in July, Mediapart has revealed the longstanding close links between France-based businessman and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine and the inner circle of advisors and aides surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy, before and after he became French president. Here, Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske reveal Takieddine's highly sensitive role as secret emissary for the French presidency in securing close diplomatic and commercial ties with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

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Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, 61, is cited as a key witness in ongoing investigations led by Paris-based examining magistrates Renaud Van Ruymbeke and Roger Le Loire into suspected illegal political financing in France from the sale of three French Agosta class submarines to Pakistan in the 1990s. The magistrates' enquiry was launched after suspicions that the significant sums officially destined as commissions - or bribes - to Pakistani officials ended up returning, illegally, to France to fund political activities. Suspicion centres on former prime minister Edouard Balladur's political movement and unsuccessful 1995 presidential election campaign, for which his budget minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, also served as official campaign spokesman.