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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 13:27 GMT
How France's 'Mr Africa' operated
Jean-Christophe Mitterand
Jean-Christophe was a key channel to his father
By the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt

Jean-Christophe Mitterand - the oldest son of the former French President Francois Mitterrand - is in custody in Paris, detained for questioning about illegal arms deals and the misuse of company funds.

But France's "Mr Africa" was once right at the heart of the very particular relationship between the French Government and the African continent.

When Jean-Christophe was his father's Africa advisor in the 1980s, the relations between France and Africa, particularly her former colonies, were extremely - some said unhealthily - close and intensely personal.

Most of these countries were run by autocratic presidents who liked to deal directly with President Mitterrand, bypassing the Foreign Ministry and other official channels.

Favours

Discreetly they could ask for favours - arms, money, help with troublesome opponents, a good word on their behalf with the IMF, a comfortable retirement if things got difficult at home.

And the favours flowed both ways.

Francois Mitterand
Mitterand was close to many African leaders
Their support raised France's international profile, their contracts always went to French companies, and several African leaders are believed to have made substantial donations to French political parties.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand - with his direct line to the President - was the man who could make things happen.

Channels

The whole essence of the system was that things could be done which would not have been possible if they'd had to go through official channels, and be subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny.

When his father left office, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand lost his job and became a businessman, exploiting his African contacts in various private deals.

The deal now being investigated dates from 1993 and 1994, and involved the sale of Russian weapons and equipment to Angola.

At the moment Mr Mitterrand has only been held for questioning; it is not clear whether he will eventually face criminal charges.

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See also:

22 Dec 00 | Africa
Mitterrand son to seek bail
21 Apr 98 | Analysis
France's contentious African role
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