October 30-November 1, 2009 -- Convicted weapons smuggler's ties to GOP
publication date: Oct 30, 2009
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October 30-November 1, 2009 -- Convicted weapons smuggler's ties to GOP
Last week, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced a number of leading politicians and businessmen to prison for their role in the illegal smuggling of weapons to the Angolan government during its civil war with UNITA guerrilla forces in the 1990s. The perpetrators of the smuggling operation sold some $750 million in landmines, artillery shells, helicopters, and warships to the government of Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Among those convicted and sentenced to prison were Jean-Christophe Mitterand, the son of thelate President, Francois Mitterand; former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua; Jean-Charles Marchiani, a senior civil servant; Paul-Loup Sulitzer, a novelist; Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli billionaire tycoon who ran unsuccessfully for mayour of Jerusalem and is linked closely to the Russian-Israel "mishpucka" of organized crime; and Pierre Falcone, a French businessman who doubled as Angola's ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Facone received a six years sentence for arms trafficking and illegal lobbying. Gaydamak, who was convicted of weapons smuggling and money laundering and received a six-year prison sentence, was not present at the Paris trial and he has escaped Israel and is now in Russia.
Gaydamak's son, Alexander, is the former head of the Portsmouth (England) football club. However, it is Falcone's wife, Sonia, who stands to tarnish the Republican Party in yet another scandal.
The "Angola-gate" scandal was highlighted in an unpublished update to the editor's book, Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999. The following excerpt is germane to the recent news from Paris:
George W. Bush, whose father helped nurture, arm, and finance UNITA’s [Jonas] Savimbi, decided the old anti-Communist guerrilla leader was too much of a liability for U.S. oil interests in Angola.
Although the reasoning behind gettig rid of Savimbi and his top lieutenants was to safeguard vast U.S. oil interests in Angola, there was also a major Angolan financial scandal with deep ties to the the Bush administration The scandal calls into mind that which existed between the Clinton administration, diamond companies, and the U.S. decision to oust Mobutu from the former Zaire.
Known as “Angolagate” in France, the Angolan scandal involved arms-for-oil deals between French businessman Pierre Falcone, the head of a firm called Brenco International; his colleague Jean-Christophe Mitterand; and a Russian-born Israeli named Arkadi Gaydamak.
According to “All the Presidents’ Men,” a March 25 report on Angolagate by Global Witness, Gaydamak funneled billions of dollars in arms and oil-backed loans to Angola's government in return for lucrative oil contracts with Western oil companies. Falcone and Gaydamak, relying on the special access that Mitterand had to the Angolan government, managed to transfer some $633 million in arms to Angola.
The net effect of the Angolan arms buildup was the scrapping of the 1994 Lusaka Peace Agreement between Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and long-time UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, a one-time favorite of the CIA and a person who President Reagan once hailed as the “George Washington of Angola.”
The newly-armed Angolan Army -- supported by MPRI and AirScan -- was eventually able to push Savimbi’s rebels further into the jungles in the eastern part of the country. This compelled UNITA to mine and sell more diamonds on the black market to buy arms. The trade in “blood diamonds,” in turn, led to a number of human rights abuses by UNITA. Ironically, Savimbi, Reagan’s “George Washington of Africa,” was gunned down by Angolan Army troops in a remote area of Angola on February 22, 2002, the birthday of George Washington.
According to Global Witness, the links between Angola’s corrupt government and the Bush administration were just as scandalous as those linking Luanda’s leadership to past and current members of the French government, both Socialist and Gaullist. In addition to the French oil giant Total-Fina-Elf, oil companies like Chevron, Texaco, Philipps Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and BP-Amoco -- all with close links to Bush and members of his administration like National Security Adviser Rice and Vice President Richard Cheney -- were heavily involved in propping up dos Santos in return for profitable off-shore oil concessions.
After transferring some $770 million in oil revenues to their own private bank accounts, dos Santos and his advisers became convinced that pluralism in their country would be a very dangerous thing for their future business deals. They also quickly abandoned their former Marxist beliefs in favor of the type of capitalist principles embraced by George W Bush and Jacques Chirac.
Falcone’s wife, Sonia, a former Miss Bolivia and a friend of First Lady Laura Bush, became a big-ticket contributor to Bush’s 2000 election campaign Contributions were made to the campaign through Sonia’s Essanté Corporation, a distributor of health, beauty, and sexual pleasure products.
In 2000, Esssanté, which is linked to Falcone’s arms trafficking Brenco through the same corporate addresses and shareholding accounts in the United Kingdom and British Virgin Islands, respectively, gave the GOP and Bush campaign over $100,000. Sonia was also an early supporter of Bush. Federal Election Commission records reveal she was on board with a $1000 contribution to Bush's presidential exploratory committee on April 14, 1999. She also rubbed shoulders with George H. W. Bush at an October 6, 2000 fundraiser -- a Bush campaign event that netted $10,000 per person.
Only after Newsweek and The Arizona Republic published details of Falcone’s international arms dealing involving Gaydamak was the money returned by the GOP to Essanté, and then only a few days prior to Bush’s inauguration. The money, of course, was available to Bush all during the contested Florida election and the state and federal Supreme Court battles. The Republican National Committee said in a statement that the money was returned to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
More noteworthy, just before Falcone was arrested in France in December 2000 (along Jean-Christophe Mitterand), police discovered computer files that included a letter from Falcone inviting then-candidate Bush to meet with dos Santos at Falcone’s Arizona Paradise Valley ranch. Although there is no record of such a meeting taking place, Bush did host dos Santos at the White House shortly after the killing of Savimbi. The timing of this meeting raises serious questions about the transfer of money to Bush’s campaign coffers and its impact on changing the Republican Party’s long-held policy of support for Savimbi.
It is also interesting that one of Bush’s top Arizona campaign officials, State Senator Scott Bundgaard, arranged for Sonia Falcone to meet Bush at Phoenix Airport just after Essanté dropped one down payment of $20,000 into Bush’s campaign chest. According to Global Witness, there is good reason to believe the donations to Bush were actually made by Pierre Falcone himself using “coded accounts” maintained at the UBS Bank in Switzerland, Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv, and Banque Rothschild in Monaco.
The Global Witness report also reveals that French investigators discovered questionable links between the Angolan government and Vice President Cheney’s old firm Halliburton and its subsidiary Brown & Root. The investigators believe Halliburton’s success in Angola is tied to Falcone’s intercessions with Luanda: actions that would have directly benefited Cheney when he headed the firm between 1995 and 2000. According to an Associated Press report on October 26, 2000, the U.S. Embassy in Luanda assisted Halliburton in securing a $68 million U.S. Export-Import Bank loan for Angola in 1998, during the height of much of the arms running activity between dos Santos, Falcone and Gaydamak. The AP cited a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Luanda to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that states, “Our commercial officer literally camped out at the offices of the national oil company, petroleum ministry and central bank, unraveling snag after snag to obtain the transfer of funds . .. . The bottom line: thousands of American jobs and a foot in the door for Halliburton to win even bigger contracts.”
Cheney, a one-time supporter of UNITA, appears to have changed his mind after the former CIA-backed guerrillas were deemed a threat to U.S. oil interests. Savimbi, like Laurent Kabila and Mobutu before him, became just another disposable CIA asset who outlived his usefulness.
Former National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Rice, a former Chevron director and the namesake of a Chevron supertanker, the SS Condoleezza Rice (later renamed the SS Altair Voyager), also had good reason to see Angola stabilized under the dos Santos regime and permanently eliminate the UNITA threat to her old employer.
Perhaps the most ironic link described in the Global Witness report was one involving the “fugitive financier” Marc Rich. He appears as a major player in the arms-for-oil scandal through a Swiss-based oil trading company named Glencore. The firm played a major role in guaranteeing a total of $1 billion in oil-backed loans for Angola in 1998. The first set of oil-backed loans in 1993 involved Glencore, Falcone, and Gaydamak. Soon after, Gaydamak arranged for the sale of Russian helicopters and ammunition through a Slovak company called ZTS-OSOS. The 1998 billion-dollar loan deal included the Export-Import Bank loans being pushed by Halliburton and Cheney. The Republican Party seized on President Clinton’s pardon of Rich without describing Cheney’s own links to the fugitive financier’s vast international money-lending and influence-peddling empire.
The ties of President Chirac’s administration to Angolagate were as close as those of other leading French politicians -- right and left, Socialist and Gaullist. What is not clear is what Chirac and then-President-elect Bush spoke about on December 18, 2000 in Washington, DC at the French Embassy during an unprecedented meeting between a president-elect and a foreign leader inside a foreign diplomatic mission. Coming just four days after the Supreme Court handed the White House to Bush, the Bush-Chirac meeting took on an even greater aura of mystery.
There is yet another disturbing element involved in Bush’s ties to dos Santos. There was a secret agreement between the French firm Communications et Systémes, the French Defense Ministry, and dos Santos to acquire during 2000 two types of communications monitoring equipment suites to triangulate the location of Savimbi’s GSM cell and satellite telephone calls in the Angolan bush country. The two systems – Murene (for GSM calls) and Menta (for satellite calls), were supposed to help dos Santos' forces locate Savimbi’s constantly moving jungle headquarters.
Apparently, the multimillion dollar systems were not all that helpful in locating Savimbi. However, legitimate questions exist about what U.S. official and unofficial intelligence resources were brought to bear on the recalcitrant ex-U.S. ally Savimbi. Under CIA Director George Tenet’s expanded authority to eliminate terrorists listed in a “worldwide attack matrix,” it is open season on anyone the U.S. brands a terrorist. According to U.S. government sources, Savimbi was tracked by the military forces of U.S. NATO ally Portugal, who were aided by private mercenaries from Israel and South Africa. Jardo Muekalia, who headed UNITA’s Washington office until it was forced to close in 1997, says that that the military forces that ultimately succeeded in assassinating Savimbi were supported by commercial satellite imagery and other intelligence support provided by Houston-based Brown & Root. Both the State Department and Pentagon vehemently denied any U.S. government role in the killing of Savimbi.
Yet another suspicious death arose from the Falcone affair and the scramble for economic advantage in Angola. Thierry Imbot, a DGSE agent and the son of General Rene Imbot, a former head of the DGSE, died in a fall from his French apartment in October 2000. Imbot’s name was listed on one of the seized diskettes as a “consultant for China” for Brenco International and was paid $120,000 for his services through Nations’ Bank of Virginia. An investigation into the mysterious death of a consultant for a company tied to the Bush family just weeks before Bush’s tainted presidential election victory failed to materialize in any American media.
Sonia Falcone's home state senator, John McCain, was also a recipient of her political largess. The Federal Election Commission records show McCain receiving $2800 from Essente in 1999 and 2000, with $1800 ultimately returned. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) received a $250 contribution from Essente in 2002.