Billionaire Dassault faces charges in French graft probe
Paris: The French Senate today lifted Serge Dassault`s immunity from prosecution in a move that clears the way for the billionaire industrialist and senator to face corruption charges.
The decision by a Senate committee means Dassault, 88, can immediately be taken into custody for interrogation by judges investigating alleged vote-buying dating from his time as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes, a Paris suburb he has been accused of running like a mafia Godfather.
Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France`s 4th-richest man and the 69th-richest in the world with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros ($18 billion).
He admits using his vast personal wealth to help residents of Corbeil, where he was mayor from 1995-2009, but denies any payouts were made in exchange for electoral support.
Serge Dassault heads the Dassault Group, which notably owns French daily Le Figaro and a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft -- including the Rafale fighter jet.
He announced earlier this week that he had requested the lifting of his own immunity. Critics said he had only done so once the move was inevitable and welcomed today`s decision.
"Serge Dassault will now have to account for having interfered with democracy`s most precious principle," said Bruno Piriou, a left winger and one of several local politicians who believe they lost bought elections.
The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying which influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault, or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter.
The result of the 2008 vote, won by Dassault, was invalidated by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration discovered a series of payments which could have influenced the outcome of the election.
That ruling did not require the same burden of proof as a criminal prosecution for vote-buying would, but formal charges against Dassault now look inevitable.
Bechter has already been charged, as has Cristela de Oliveira, a former official in the mayor`s office who is suspected of allocating council flats to families in return for backing Dassault or Bechter.
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