French President Nicolas Sarkozy dismissed suggestions that he was linked to possible bribes paid in the 1990s to sell submarines to Pakistan.
“It’s just a polemic that people are trying to stick to me,” Sarkozy said at a press conference today during a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Lisbon. “It dishonors the families of the victims. Let the justice system do its work.”
French prosecutors began investigating a 1994 contract to sell Pakistan three vessels after 11 military engineers working on the boats were killed in a May 2002 bombing in Karachi.
Le Figaro newspaper reported in June 2009 that investigators concluded in late 2002 that the attack was linked to then-President Jacques Chirac’s decision to cancel secret payments to middlemen who brokered the contract. Le Figaro said part of the bribes were presumed to have made their way to the failed 1995 presidential election campaign of then-Prime Minister Edouard Balladur against Chirac.
Sarkozy was Balladur’s spokesman during the campaign. Balladur was questioned by lawmakers earlier this year and denied receiving any money from the contract.
Dominique de Villepin, Chirac’s chief of staff and a former prime minister, said in an interview with TF1 Television late yesterday that “very strong suspicious of hidden commissions existed” in the submarine sale. He said Chirac moved to end “all payments on contracts that could have involved hidden commissions,” he said.
De Villepin lost to Sarkozy for the nomination to be their party’s candidate in 2007 presidential elections. He has since emerged as one of Sarkozy’s most outspoken critics and has started a breakaway political group.
Claude Gueant, Sarkozy’s chief of staff, said in a statement last night that Sarkozy had no link to any presumed bribes paid in relation to the submarine sale and that he’s a victim of “malicious rumors.”