MAC: Mines and Communities

Angola's Falcone lands in jail, but questions remain

Published by MAC on 2009-11-09
Source: Guardian

Late last month, four international arms dealers were sent to prison by a French court, for bulwarking the corrupt Dos Santos regime in Angola.

The most notorious and influential of these was Pierre Falcone, who had his fingers in almost every illicit deal from 1993 onwards.

However, one longstanding allegation made against Falcone doesn't appear to have featured in the recent trial: that he traded in Angola's "blood diamonds", as well as oil and other commodities.

Meanwhile, the role of Glencore - the world's biggest metals and oil trader and 35% shareholder of UK-Swiss mining company, Xstrata - in brokering deals by Falcone and co-defendant Gaydamak, still seems shrouded in some mystery...

How France fuelled Angola's civil war

The conviction of Pierre Falcone for arms trafficking is an embarrassing blow to Angola's president


1 November 2009

The convictions of Pierre Falcone, Arcadi Gaydamak, ex-president's son Jean-Christophe Mitterrand and Charles Pasqua in a French court for arms trafficking to Angola have exposed the impunity with which arms traffickers supplied weapons to Angola during its 27-year civil war. In an effort to stem the conflict, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on both the government and the rebels. Both parties contravened the international decision during the second (1992-94) and third (1998-2002) periods of the civil war. The Angolan government employed primarily the services of Pierre Falcone and Gaydamak to procure the arms, while the main arms dealer supplying Unita rebels was the infamous Ukrainian Victor Bout, who is currently sitting in jail in Thailand.

In order to understand the significance of these convictions it is important to focus on one key player, Pierre Falcone, and his relationship with the Angolan leadership.

The Angolan president, Eduardo dos Santos, publicly hailed him as a national hero. Critical newspapers dubbed him as the "vice-president of Angola" for his privileged access to the president, and for his handling of sovereign state affairs. His influence made a laughing-stock of the former Angolan prime minister Marcolino Moco, who had only two private audiences with Dos Santos during his four years in the job. It coincided with the period of arms trafficking for which Falcone has just been convicted.

In 2004, for instance, Dos Santos' office called for the prosecution of Falcone to be abandoned: During a difficult moment of the recent Angolan history, Mr Pierre Falcone, by his volition and at his own risk, made funds available to the Angolan government for it to exercise its right of sovereignty, a right that was almost denied by the international community. It was, thus, decisive, at that time, the financial support from some private entities. The ideological divide of the cold war had enabled the MPLA regime to seek international military protection from Cuba and the former Soviet Union between 1975, the year of Angola's independence, and 1989. Economic liberalisation and the new world order led Dos Santos to shift, during the 1992 post-electoral civil war, to the use of private foreign intermediaries to perform sovereign responsibilities and to enable the ruling elite to enrich themselves illicitly, including the presidential family.

Angola's riches sustained and prolonged the civil war. The government traded oil for weapons, while Unita paid for arms with diamonds. These deals fuelled the conflict and contributed to the killings of tens of thousands of Angolans, the devastation of the country's infrastructure, and helped to institutionalise corruption. Furthermore, the corrupt channels established by arms trade, oil and diamonds set the stage for a culture of impunity, plunder of the state assets by the ruling elite, and the "legalisation" of such criminal acts in peace time.

It is in this context that Falcone has also become a key player in Angola's state contracts with China, which are worth billions of dollars. His conviction is a serious blow to Dos Santos' arrogance as an untouchable political figure. It imperils the president's form of private indirect government! a term used by the academic Achille Mbembe to describe the privatisation of sovereignty as its various functions and obligations are transferred to private operators and for private ends.

From Ken Silverstein - In These Times

22 December 2001

In November 1993, Falcone and Gaydamak helped arrange the sale to Angola of $47 million in small arms. A second deal for $563 million worth of weapons, including tanks and helicopters, got underway early the following year. The supplier in both cases was ZTS-OSOS, a Slovakian company that rounded up the weapons from Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. The Angolans paid for the weapons with oil, which Falcone and Gaydamak sold with the help of Glencore-a company owned by Marc Rich, the fugitive financier who would later receive a controversial pardon from Bill Clinton during his last days as president.

"Thanks to their sensitive role in Angola, Falcone and Gaydamak became intimate cronies of dos Santos, whose systematic pilfering of the state treasury has made him by some accounts one of the world's 50 richest men. (On December 12, Reuters reported that $1.5 billion of the $3.5 billion that Angola earned in 2000 from oil exports was unaccounted for.) The two men were given a stake in virtually every key sector of the Angolan economy, from food to diamonds to oil. In 1999, the government picked Falcon Oil Holdings, a Falcone-owned firm registered in Panama, as a minority partner to ExxonMobil on a huge offshore site. "

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