Gaydamak Unlikely to Return to Israel for Fear of France Extradition

French court sentences Israeli-Russian businessman to six years' jail time for gunrunning in Angola.

A French court on Tuesday sentenced Israeli-Russian businessman Arcadi Gaydamak to six years in jail and a 5 million euro fine for his role in illegal arms sale to the Angolan government in the 1990s and in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gaydamak was one of 42 people charged in the case, popularly known as Angolagate. Others include the son of former French President Francois Mitterrand; a former French interior minister, Charles Pasqua; and several senior French government officials. All but six defendants were convicted.

Gaydamak, 57, is the only defendant who refused to attend the trial. He instead awaited the verdict at his home in Moscow.

Because of the sentence, he is now considered unlikely to return to Israel, which has an extradition treaty with France. That is why he left for Russia 10 months ago, two months after the trial began.

The arms deals in question, worth $791 million, took place between 1993 and 1998. Gaydamak and his business partner at the time, Pierre Falcone, sold Russian arms to the Angolan government, then embroiled in a civil war, on behalf of a Slovakian company. They argued that since the transactions did not take place on French soil and the arms were sold to a legal government, they did nothing wrong. However, the court convicted them of failing to obtain a license to deal in arms.

The 82-year-old Pasqua, now a French senator, was convicted of promoting the arms deal and taking a bribe from Falcone and Gaydamak in the form of a donation to his party. He was sentenced to a year in jail and a 100,000-euro fine. Pasqua's former aide, Gen. Jean-Charles Marchiani, who once tried to help the Mossad obtain information about missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad, was sentenced to three years in jail. But Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe, was given only a suspended jail sentence plus a 375,000-euro fine, as he was convicted of taking bribes but not of arms dealing.

Gaydamak moved to France from Israel in 1972, and that is where he made his fortune. The money came largely from his partnership with Falcone in the 1990s. Falcone had ramified ties with France's political elite, including Pasqua.

Falcone and Gaydamak set up a company, and when they learned that Angola's government was seeking weapons, they offered their services. They obtained the right to represent a Slovakian arms company, ZTS-OSOS. They also obtained help from senior French officials - including Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, then an advisor to his father, the president - in contacting Angola's president and senior Angolan army officers. Finally, with the aid of bribes paid to both French officials and, especially, the Angolans, they were given the contract.

From 1993-98, they supplied Angola's government with 400 tanks, 12 helicopters, six ships and hundreds of thousands of mines and shells, all purchased in Russia. In addition to paying for the weapons, the Angolan government rewarded them with diplomatic passports - though that did not stop the French court from ordering Falcone to start serving his sentence immediately. Later, Angola granted them an even bigger assignment, that of settling its massive debt to Russia.

Everything went smoothly until 1999, when French authorities began investigating. Gaydamak fled to Israel to escape arrest, since at that time Israeli law did not deem gun-running an extraditable offense (the law has since been changed).

Later, Angola rescinded his diplomatic passport, saying he had cheated it. Then Falcone and another former business partner filed suit against him in Israel, claiming he had cheated them as well. Finally, he was slapped with another suit by his Luxembourg banker, over nonpayment of fees.