Turns & twists of Agosta Submarine deal

FRENCH authorities, investigating the death of 11 French engineers working at Karachi to assemble the third Agosta submarine have reached a new twist in the case. Amir Lodhi, an arms dealer and brother of journalist turned diplomat Maleeha Lodhi was wanted by the Government of Pakistan in the French submarines case in which a former Pakistan Navy Chief, Admiral Mansurul Haq had been nabbed by the national accountability bureau and made to cough up $7.5 million to the Pakistan Government. 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. According to the documents, president, Asif Ali Zardari, benefited from massive secret payments connected to the Sale of the French submarines to Pakistan. The payments to Mr. Zardari and others reportedly took place on the fringes of the sale of three Agosta-class submarines by the French defence contractor the DCN to Pakistan in the 1990s. The French sale succeeded against rival offers by Swedish and German contractors.

The documents show that the sale, and the payment of bribes associated with it – officially termed as commissions – are at the core of what has become known as the ‘Karachi affair’, currently the subject of two French judicial investigations and which has rocked the French political establishment with its potential far-reaching ramifications within France. A key allegation in the developing affair is that the cancellation of commissions paid out in the submarine deal was the motivation behind a suicide bomb attack in Karachi on May 8th, 2002, that left 11 French submarine engineers dead. 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 raid on Lodhi’s home in the French capital was carried out by detectives from the French police national financial investigation division, the DNIF, (Division nationale des investigations financiers). The Ehtesab Cell documents were the object of a formal report by the DNIF, established on June 17th, 2010, and reveal that Zardari received payments worth 6,934,296 Euros between October and December 1994.That report is now among the evidence collected by Van Ruymbeke in his investigations launched last autumn 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.

Originally written in English, the Pakistani document was translated by the DNIF investigators and now provides the first clear details about the scale of the payments made to Zardari, amounting to several million euros, as well as the channels used, including offshore companies, bank accounts and a British tax haven. The Agosta submarine contract was signed between the two countries on September 21st, 1994, just weeks before the first payments began. At the time, Mr. Zardari was a minister in the Pakistani government then led by his wife, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Importantly, Zardari was the key figure for all public contracts signed with foreign countries. Several high-profile witnesses questioned in November and December 2010 by judge Van Ruymbeke have insisted that the bribes paid in 1994 were perfectly legal and were approved by France’s then-defence minister, François Leotard, and its budget minister, now France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy. In a statement he gave to Van Ruymbeke on November 9th, 2010, former DCN-I finance director, Gérard-Philippe Menayas, said “the total volume of the commissions was validated, contract by contract, by the ministers of the budget and defence.”The French investigations may take any number of turns and a twist for the French citizens but President Zardari owes an explanation to the people of Pakistan if his name is appearing in the French media – Dailymailnews