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2001: French ex-minister jailed over sleaze

Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas has been jailed for six months in the country's biggest sleaze scandal in recent history.

The 78-year-old judge and close confidant of the late President Francois Mitterrand was found guilty of illegally receiving funds from oil giant Elf Aquitaine between 1989 and 1992.

His ex-lover, Christine Deviers-Joncour, and two top Elf executives were also jailed for misusing funds in the embezzlement scandal.

Ms Deviers-Joncour sank into her chair, head in hands, as the sentence was announced - three-years' imprisonment, half of which is suspended.

Former company president Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 57, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. Alfred Sirven, 74, his former second-in-command and controller of the company slush fund - got four years.

Both men were also ordered to pay fines of two million French francs ($270,000). Mr Dumas must pay one million francs.

The trial that has gripped the nation focused on allegations of corruption arising from the $9m which Elf is said to have paid to Ms Deviers-Joncour for her work as a consultant and lobbyist in support of the firm's world-wide sales effort.

"Game of shadows and light"

Mr Dumas has said he played a part, for the sake of France, in what he called "a subtle game of shadows and light", but denied that he made any personal gain.

The trial produced more headline-grabbing details about the lavish lifestyles of the accused, and the many gifts allegedly given to Mr Dumas by his lover in an attempt to influence government decisions.

And in a major dramatic twist Sirven, on trial in his absence, was captured in the Philippines after four years on the run. He was brought back amid fevered expectation of what he might reveal about the affair, as the former controller of the Elf purse-strings. But in the end he refused to testify.

The ripples from the case have spread across the border into Germany, where Elf embarked on controversial expansion projects in Helmut Kohl's era as Chancellor.

Both Dumas and his former lover will remain free while their appeals are heard - which could take years.

In Context
Roland Dumas was cleared in January 2003.

His initial trial and sentence were widely regarded in France as a sign the French government was ready to rid itself of corruption.

But subsequent attempts to prosecute politicians collapsed. In October 2001 President Jacques Chirac won his right to maintain immunity from prosecution on allegations of misappropriating public funds.

In the same month prosecutors dropped their case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn - the popular former finance minister in Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's cabinet - for forgery and misappropriation of funds.

In February 2002 French magistrates published a report ending an eight-year investigation led by magistrate Eva Joly into corruption involving French politicians and the once state-owned company Elf Aquitaine.

In 2003 37 people, including three senior Elf executives, were sentenced to spend up to five years in prison for their part in the corruption scandal.


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