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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Sirven stages cell protest
Alfred SIrven
Sirven has been in custody since February
French businessman Alfred Sirven - awaiting a verdict after a major corruption trial in France - is refusing to leave his cell to appear before a judge on a separate issue, prison officials say.

Mr Sirven, 74, is being held at La Sante prison in Paris, after being tried with former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas over an alleged web of corruption involving oil giant Elf Aquitaine.

But officials said on Wednesday he was refusing to emerge from his cell to appear before investigating magistrate Laurence Vichnievsky.

Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas
Roland Dumas: His mistresses received Elf cash, court heard
Mr Vichnievsky is investigating the sale of six French frigates to Taiwan in 1991, a contract which was allegedly approved by the government after bribes were paid by Mr Sirven.

Mr Sirven has been in custody since he was arrested in the Philippines in February after four years on the run.

He has already been questioned once over his and Elf's role in the frigates deal, but did not give clear answers.

A second French company, Thomson-CSF, manufactured the frigates, but Elf allegedly lobbied the government on the firm's behalf to ensure the deal was not blocked.

Christine Deviers-Joncour
Christine Deviers-Joncour: Allegedly paid by Elf to influence government
Mr Sirven is suspected of paying Christine Deviers-Jonour - then Mr Dumas' mistress - to win his backing for the deal.

Mr Sirven's trial, which ended last month, steered clear of the frigate issue, focusing instead on Elf's own business interests.

The court heard evidence that Mr Sirven had controlled a $400m slush fund, which paid Ms Deviers-Joncour huge sums of money to influence Mr Dumas on Elf's behalf.

A verdict on the first trial is due on May 30.

Fresh arrests

Elf, a French state company at the time of the alleged scandal, was taken over last year by the Franco-Belgian group TotalFina.

Earlier this week, reports from Switzerland said three businessmen had been indicted for allegedly laundering stolen funds hidden away by Mr Sirven.

The case is reported to involve more than 50m Swiss francs ($27m).

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Europe
Sirven walks out of court
06 Feb 01 | Europe
Elf king who fell from power
12 Mar 01 | Europe
Profile: France's sleaze-buster
04 Feb 01 | Europe
France defends Sirven case
31 Jan 01 | Europe
Dumas 'threatens judges'
22 Jan 01 | Europe
A potential political earthquake
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