No proof to link French Prez to Karachi bomb probe: Report

In 2002, a suicide bomb attack in Karachi had killed 11 French people.

Last Updated: Nov 20, 2010, 10:26 AM IST

Paris: France`s presidential palace said on Friday there was no proof to implicate President Nicolas Sarkozy in an investigation into the circumstances behind a 2002 bomb attack in Pakistan that killed 11 French people.

Families of the victims have said Sarkozy should be summoned for questioning in the probe, which aims to clarify whether the attack was a reprisal against France for a decision to stop paying commissions on Agosta submarine sales to Pakistan.

Investigating magistrates also aim to determine whether any of the alleged sale commissions were used to make illegal contributions to the presidential campaign of then Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, a centre-right politician.

Sarkozy was budget minister under Balladur in 1993-95, years straddling the signing of the Agosta contract in September 1994. The Elysee palace rejected suggestions that Sarkozy may have been aware of the commissions as "malicious rumours”.

"It is unacceptable for this drama to be used as a circumstantial argument to feed the cause of those who have no other concern than to implicate the head of state with a series of insinuations, in an affair which concerns him in no way," the presidential palace said in a statement.

The Elysee palace also brushed off accusations that the government may have hindered the investigation by invoking official secrecy acts and said there was no proof to implicate Sarkozy in any part of the probe.

Under French immunity rules, a president can refuse to be questioned while in office, but the demand linking him with the affair is uncomfortable for Sarkozy who is grappling with some of the worst popularity ratings of any recent French leader.

The suicide bomb attack in the Pakistani port city of Karachi killed 11 French engineers and technicians who were working on construction of Agosta submarines France sold to Pakistan under a contract signed in the mid-1990s.

It was initially blamed on Islamist militants, but new information that surfaced in 2008 has led investigators to look at whether it could have been a reprisal for an order by then President Jacques Chirac to stop paying the commissions.

Former defence minister Charles Millon, who held that post in the key mid-1990s period of the submarine contract, told investigating magistrates in recent hearings that Chirac had ordered a halt in the payment of certain commissions linked to the contract, a judicial source said.

Bureau Report