Paris: A former French minister was charged
with graft on Thursday over alleged arms deal kickbacks said to have
funded the presidential campaign of an ally of President
Nicolas Sarkozy, a lawyer said.
A lawyer working for the families of victims of a
Pakistani bomb attack thought to be linked to the deal,
Olivier Morice, said Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres had been
charged with "embezzling public funds".
Earlier, police had confirmed that the suspect had been
arrested on Tuesday and held overnight before being questioned
by investigating magistrates. He is now free, but expected for
face trial for his role in "the Karachi affair".
Vabres, 57, culture minister between 2004 and 2007, was
serving as a senior advisor to then defence Minister Francois
Leotard in 1994 when a suspect contract to sell French
submarines to Pakistan was signed.
The contract has since become the focus of a graft probe,
amid allegations that kickbacks from the deal were used to
fund Edouard Balladur`s failed 1995 presidential campaign, for
which Sarkozy acted as spokesman.
There have also been claims that a 2002 bombing in
Karachi that killed 11 French naval engineers was carried out
by Pakistani agents in revenge for the cancellation of bribes
secretly promised to officials.
Sarkozy has denied any knowledge of illegal contributions
to Balladur`s campaign, but the long-running investigation has
tainted his preparations to stand for re-election next year.
Three people have already been charged with graft in the
investigation: alleged middleman Franco-Lebanese businessman
Ziad Takieddine and two former close political aides to
Investigators have discovered that a mysterious 20
million francs (around three million euros) in cash was paid
into Balladur`s 1995 campaign coffers -- 10 million of them in
one payment the day after the vote.