A French court on Thursday acquitted former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur on corruption charges after he was accused of using kickbacks from a arms deal but leaving a temporary jail to his former defense minister.
The verdict of the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which is sitting to try to serve and former ministers for alleged violations committed in office, came just days after ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was convicted of corruption.
Balladur, 91, was accused of bringing illegal missions from arms deals to his failed presidential campaign in 1995.
However, his former defense minister Francois Leotard, 78, was convicted of complicity in misappropriation of assets and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 100,000 euros.
None of them was present in court for the verdict.
Balladur and Leotard, both right-wingers, were accused in 2017 of “complicity in the misuse of corporate assets” over the sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia between 1993 and 1995.
The verdict came on the heels of a corruption conviction for former President Sarkozy on Monday, which stunned France and has led to a debate on the extent of political corruption.
The verdict meant that both of the last heads of state from the French right-wing party now called the Republicans (LR) – Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy – have criminal convictions.
Sarkozy has promised to appeal and clear his name.
The allegations against Balladur and Leotard emerged during an investigation into a 2002 bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, which targeted a bus carrying French engineers.
Fifteen people were killed in the attack, including 11 engineers working on the submarine contract, with Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network, which was originally suspected of carrying out the attack.
But the focus shifted and French investigators began to consider whether the bombing had been carried out in retaliation for a halt to the commission payments for the arms deal.
Balladur lost his presidential bid from 1995 to rival Chirac, who allegedly cut off the payments negotiated by the previous government.
Leotard was accused of creating an “opaque network” of intermediaries who took commissions on contracts signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and then repaid part of the money through illegal cash transfers.
The prosecutors claimed that the assignment amounted to 550 million francs, or 117 million euros in today’s money, some of which was withdrawn to Balladur’s campaign.
At the heart of the matter was a deposit of FRF 10.25 million in cash to Balladur’s campaign account three days after his 1995 election defeat.
Balladur claimed that the money came from donations from supporters and the sale of goods, but prosecutors linked the money to cash withdrawals in Switzerland from a Lebanese-French intermediary who commissioned the arms deals.
Ziad Takieddine, who has long been active in French right-wing circles, fled to Lebanon in June last year after a Paris court sentenced him and another middleman, Abdul Rahman El-Assir, to five years in prison for his role in “Karachi” – the slopes.
Three others were also convicted but have appealed.
“I have a completely free conscience,” Balladur told the court during his interrogation.
Takieddine has also made – and withdrawn – claims that he delivered suitcases filled with cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Gadhafi to Sarkozy’s chief of staff to help with the ex – president’s presidential campaign in 2007.
These allegations are the subject of a separate investigation by Sarkozy.
On Monday, the 66-year-old former president was found to have formed a “corruption pact” with his lawyer Thierry Herzog to persuade a judge to obtain and share information about yet another investigation into his campaign funding.
Sarkozy, who has been tough on investigations since leaving office in 2007, denies the allegations and has promised to clear his name with an appeal.
In two interviews on Wednesday, he paralyzed the verdict and said he was considering filing a complaint with Europe’s Supreme Court.
“I never betrayed the confidence of the French people,” the French president told the TF1 channel from 2007 to 2012 in a prime-time interview on Wednesday night.