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Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 16:04 GMT
Elf king who fell from power
Alfred SIrven
Knockout: Sirven's evidence could shred reputations
Flamboyant former oil executive Alfred Sirven was at the heart of a lavish slush fund scandal which rocked the French political and business establishment.

He was found guilty in 2001 of masterminding a multi-million-dollar slush fund for French oil giant Elf Aquitaine from his executive suite in Switzerland, where he headed its global operation, Elf International.

Media reports characterised him as the bagman, even the "foreign minister" for Elf's then boss in France, Loik le Floch-Prigent, also convicted of corruption.

The case was France's biggest political trial in years. Mr Dumas joined Mr Floch-Prigent and other senior Elf officials in the dock.

As the trial began, Mr Sirven also went on trial - but in his absence. He had fled four years earlier when French authorities started investigating Elf's web of financial deals, but was dramatically recaptured and brought back to stand trial.

Resistance fighter

Mr Sirven was the latest in a series of French politicians and business leaders - many of them elderly - to find themselves in the dock, literally or metaphorically.

Like his contemporaries Mr Mitterrand and Mr Dumas, Mr Sirven was a wartime resistance fighter, who also fought in the regular army.

Like them, he enjoyed the good life after rising to the upper echelons of power and influence in post-war France.

Before fleeing, he was reputed to be a bon viveur. Stories spoke of his habit of handing out expensive gifts - cognac, jewellery and the like - to clients like sweets to children.

Funds stashed

Even his four years on the run in the Philippines was reportedly spent in luxury, allegedly paid for from the funds he had stashed away in Far East banks before fleeing Europe.

Investigators said his Filipina girlfriend, Vilma Aguilando Medina - who used to work for him in Paris and with whom he shared life on the run - made frequent trips from the Philippines to Hong Kong, where they believe she withdrew funds.

The net finally closed in on Mr Sirven when police burst in to his luxury home in the resort of Tagaytay, south of Manila, early in 2001.

He chewed... the SIM card of his mobile phone and swallowed it - he crunched it with his teeth

Philippine investigator James Tosoc
French investigators had tracked him painstakingly across the Philippines in an inquiry that had elements of drama and of farce.

Several times, it is believed that Mr Sirven slipped through their fingers as they closed in on him.

It is even claimed that, as police finally moved in to arrest him, Mr Sirven swallowed the SIM card from his mobile phone, to stop investigators tracing his calls - and his bank accounts.

More farce followed at Frankfurt airport in Germany, as Mr Sirven, supposed to be simply changing flights there en route for France, was held by German officials because his escort had missed a plane from the Philippines.

See also:

03 Feb 01 | Europe
04 Feb 01 | Europe
22 Jan 01 | Europe
01 Mar 00 | Europe
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