Arab Today, arab today french billionaire dassault faces custody in corruption case
Last Updated : GMT 08:44:49
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French billionaire Dassault faces custody in corruption case

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today French billionaire Dassault faces custody in corruption case

Paris - AFP

A billionaire plane manufacturer is accused of running the place like a mafia Godfather. There have been shootings in the streets in broad daylight, vote-buying is allegedly rife and allegations of extortion are routine. 1920s Chicago or a mineral-rich town in Russia's Wild East? No, it is a sleepy little Paris suburb that has provided the stage for one of France's most colourful corruption cases of recent years. At the centre of the saga is Serge Dassault, the flamboyant industrialist responsible for the Mirage and Rafale fighter jets. Dassault, 88, will on Wednesday have his parliamentary immunity lifted in a move that will allow examining magistrates to bring him into custody for interrogation over alleged vote-buying in Corbeil-Essonnes, where he was formerly mayor. The probe took a sinister twist last year when it was linked by the media to two shootings that are being treated as attempted murders. In a video posted on the site of daily newspaper Le Parisien in February of last year, a man identified as Rachid Toumi claimed to have been shot repeatedly as a warning not to divulge his involvement in vote-buying on Dassault's behalf under what he described as a "mafia system". The same month, a well-known ex-boxer, Fatah Hou, was seriously injured in a shooting for which an alleged associate of Dassault, Younes Bounouara, was detained in November. Dassault, who was reported to have employed Bounouara as "his man" in rundown local housing estates, was questioned as a witness in that case shortly after his detention. The industrialist has also filed a legal complaint that accuses Hou and an associate of trying to extort money from him while Hou has counter-claimed that Dassault conspired to have him arrested in Morocco to keep him away from Corbeil. Investigations into the two shootings are ongoing and have not been formally linked to the vote-buying probe. The judges are currently unable to quiz Dassault in custody because he is a serving Senator and the upper house of the French parliament has thus far refused to lift his immunity. That stance has been attacked by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and others as damaging to the reputation of France's political system, and it will be formally reversed by a Senate committee on Wednesday. In a statement to AFP, Dassault said he had decided to waive his immunity, "to show that anything I have done is beyond reproach." Claims from 'political enemies' He added: "Even if it means being taken into custody, I am ready to meet this challenge. "It will enable me to have access to the prosecution case and it will enable me to defend myself against these accusations that have been completely invented by certain of my political enemies." Magistrates are studying alleged vote-buying in municipal elections in Corbeil-Essonnes in 2008, 2009 and 2010 which were won either by Dassault, or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter. The outcome of the 2008 vote was annulled by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration in France said it had been established that payments had been made to voters. The Council did not say how much money had been paid out and its ruling does not have the same status as a criminal conviction. In a statement in September 2013, Dassault's lawyers acknowledged that their client was regularly solicited for cash by individuals who had been made aware of his generosity, but denied any payouts were made for electoral purposes. For Dassault, the corruption case is the latest chapter of what has been an extraordinary life. Arrested along with the rest of his family by the Gestapo as a teenager, he narrowly avoided deportation to the Nazi death camps. His father Marcel, the founder of Dassault, was sent to Buchenwald after refusing to put his aeronautical engineering prowess at the disposal of the Nazis but survived until the camp was liberated at the end of the war. Serge Dassault worked his way up through the family business before finally taking the helm of Dassault Industries in 1987. Since renamed Dassault Group, the firm owns Le Figaro, France's leading right-wing newspaper, and has interests ranging from a stake in a thoroughbred horse auction company to property and the Chateau Dassault wine estate in Bordeaux, as well as its aerospace activities. According to Forbes magazine, Dassault is the 4th richest man in France and the 69th richest in the world with a fortune estimated at 13 billion euros ($18 billion).

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