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27 Oct, 2009 18:47

Israeli-Russian billionaire sentenced to jail for arms trafficking

Israeli-Russian billionaire Arkady Gaydamak has been sentenced in Paris to 6 years in jail for arms trafficking, corruption and tax evasion. His lawyer says he is a victim of political and legal machinations.

The businessman’s partner, French magnate Pierre Falcone, has also been convicted to six years behind bars and was immediately arrested. Arkady Gaydamak was sentenced in absentia, and it is unclear whether he will ever serve the prison term, as he reportedly is currently living in Russia.

The judge said that Gaydamak’s guilt is burdened with his attitude toward justice – the Israeli businessman of Soviet origin has ignored all requests to appear in court.

Gaydamak’s lawyer told RIA Novosti news agency it’s very much likely that they are going to appeal the court’s decision.

Falcone’s attorney is confident the case was politically motivated.

“The court hasn’t looked for any other guilty persons, even though the investigation revealed that state services had been well informed,” he is quoted as saying. “The court has interpreted the case in a wrong way. Obviously, we are going to immediately appeal the decision and demand that Pierre Falcone be released.”

The two businessmen are accused of buying Soviet-made tanks, helicopters and artillery pieces and then selling them in the 1990s to Angola during a civil war. All the weapons – worth about $ 790 million – came from Russia through a French-based firm and its subsidiary in Eastern Europe, a company controlled by Gaydamak and Falcone.

The businessmen did not deny that they organized arms supplies to Angola. What they refused to admit is the accusation that they sold 170,000 antipersonnel mines. The two also claim they didn’t have to get the French approval for weapons supplies, since they were transported to Angola through the territory of former socialist states.

The lawyers cited a letter sent last summer to Falcone by French Defense Minister Herve Morin where the official said the trade didn’t require permission. The judge nevertheless said the letter would not influence the outcome of the case.

Another 41 people were tried in connection with the case dubbed “Angolagate.” Later further intrigue to the story was added by a former French Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, who was given a one-year jail term for his role in the scandal.

He accused Gaydamak of working undercover for French intelligence and also called for Jacques Chirac to be brought to justice, claiming the then-president was aware of illegal weapon sales to Angola.