Text size

Angola's government pleaded Tuesday with a French judge to halt a major trial involving charges of arms trafficking and high-level bribes against Israeli-Russian billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak.

Lawyers for another key defendant tried to scupper the proceedings, too - but the judge ordered the trial to resume Wednesday.

Forty-two defendants went on trial this week, after seven years of international investigation, in a convoluted and sensitive case the French have dubbed Angolagate.

The chief suspects, Gaydamak and French tycoon Pierre Falcone, are accused of trafficking Soviet-made arms to Angola's government during a civil war in the 1990s. Both deny breaking the law.

On Monday, Gaydamak submitted his official candidacy for the Jerusalem mayoral race , just as the trial against him opened in Paris.

Other suspects include the son of former French President Francois Mitterrand, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, and a host of political heavyweights. Most are accused of taking bribes from a company Falcone ran in exchange for political and commercial favors.

A lawyer representing Angola, Francis Teitgen, argued that the investigation jeopardized the African country's defense secrets and that letting this information emerge in a public trial would be an attack on Angola's sovereignty.

He said the massive case file included classified details on Angolan military procurements, sensitive diplomatic correspondence, and government banking information.

"We must apply to Angola the same treatment that France applies to its own [classified] documents," he argued.

Neither Angola nor any of its citizens is a party to the case. However, the 468-page indictment describes several alleged transactions involving Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos and other Angolan officials.

Falcone's lawyers also requested the trial be stopped.

They produced a letter in court from Defense Minister Herve Morin, addressed July 11, saying there was no reason to prosecute the arms trafficking charges in France because the weapons never transited French territory. The Kalashnikov rifles, tanks and other weapons came from Russia, via a Slovak company that Falcone and Gaydamak controlled.

Prosecutor Romain Victor dismissed the arguments, insisting the indictment contained enough of a French connection for the trial to go forward. It says French bank Paribas and other French companies were directly involved in the oil-for-arms deals with Angola.

Angola's 1979-2002 civil war served as a Cold War proxy conflict between the Marxist army of Dos Santos, backed by Cuban soldiers, and the forces of U.S.- and South Africa-backed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

The trial is expected to last until March. Falcone, Gaydamak and Mitterrand face up to 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of euros in fines each if convicted.