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'Zardari received millions in kickbacks in French sub deal'

world Updated: Jan 16, 2011 15:07 IST
Asif Ali Zardari

A Paris magistrate, probing a suspected scam surrounding the sale of three Agosta-class French submarines to Pakistan's navy, has seized as evidence official Pakistani documents detailing how President Asif Ali Zardari "received kickbacks" worth several millions of euros in the deal, says a media report.

The documents, revealed for the first time by Mediapart, a French online publication, show that the payments to Zardari and others took place on the fringes of the sale of three submarines by the French defence contractor DCN to Pakistan in the 1990s. The French sale succeeded against rival offers by Swedish and German contractors.

The sale, and the payment of bribes associated with it ­- officially termed as commissions - are at the core of what has come to known as the 'Karachi affair', currently the subject of two French judicial investigations. The issue has rocked the French political establishment with its potential far-reaching ramifications within France, Pakistan's 'The Nation' daily said quoting the Mediapart report.

A key allegation in the developing affair is that the cancellation of commissions paid out in the submarine deal was the motive behind a suicide bomb attack in Karachi on May 8, 2002 that left 11 French engineers dead. They were in Pakistan to help build one of the Agosta submarines.

Increasing evidence suggests that cancellation of the commissions, ordered by former French president Jacques Chirac, was decided after it was discovered they were in part re-routed back to France to fund political activities of Chirac's principal political rival, Edouard Balladur.

The documents now in possession of Paris-based judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke were found during a French police search in June 2010 of the home of Amir Lodhi, one of the intermediaries involved in securing the Agosta contract. Lodhi held a copy of a report by a Pakistani anti-corruption service, the Ehtesab Cell, the report said.

Lodhi, 61, the brother of a former Pakistani ambassador to the UN, is a close friend of Zardari, who became President in 2008 one year after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.

The raid on Lodhi's home in the French capital was carried out by detectives from the French police national financial investigation division, the DNIF.

The Ehtesab Cell documents were the object of a formal report by the DNIF, established on June 17th, 2010, and reveal that Zardari received a kickback worth 6,934,296 euros between October and December 1994, the report said.

That report is now among the evidence collected by Van Ruymbeke in his investigation into the financial aspect of the Agosta submarine sale, and in particular whether commissions paid abroad were re-routed to fund political activities within France.

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