Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from the court in Paris, said many people do not believe that justice has been carried out.

"Many people that I've spoken to here ... say that really they've only half-lifted the veil - that many people have escaped justice and they've escaped the spotlight," he said.

But he added that Gaydamak, who is now believed to be in Russia, "has escaped the long arm of French justice", and that Pasqua, who is now in his eighties, will find it hard to cope with his jail sentence.

Gaydamak had initially fled to Israel from France, even standing for mayor of Jerusalem during attempts to extradite him.

Falcone, who holds French, Canadian and Angolan citizenship, and was Angola's ambassador to the UN cultural body Unesco, had claimed diplomatic immunity in the case, but this was overturned by the judge.

Weapons arsenal

The alleged weapons arsenal, which included 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters, and six warships, is said to have propped up the government of Eduardo Dos Santos, the then-president, during its war against the US-backed Unita rebels.

Angola is littered with mines, a legacy of the civil war that killed thousands of people [EPA]
The arms sales began in 1993, when Francois Mitterrand was president, and continued into 1998, three years into the presidency of his successor, Jacques Chirac.

Prosecutors argued that the shipment was in itself illegal, although the main defendants disputed this, and claim that millions of dollars were skimmed off the contract to pay bribes to senior French and Angolan figures.

Although no Angolan officials have been indicted, court papers allege that Dos Santos and his inner circle received millions of dollars in kickbacks.

Several defendants have also said the trade was carried out in full view of the French authorities, but that the government kept quiet to protect an important source of oil.

Angola pushed to have the trial abandoned as relations soured between the countries.

In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, visited Angola in an effort to mend ties strained by the case.