French tycoon in custody over corruption

Serge Dassault admits he used his vast personal wealth to help Corbeil residents, but he denies paying for votes.

    Forbes magazine estimates Dassault's fortune to be worth $18billion [Reuters]
    Forbes magazine estimates Dassault's fortune to be worth $18billion [Reuters]

    Serge Dassault, the billionaire manufacturer of French fighter jets, was in custody for alleged vote-buying in Corbeil-Essonnes, east of Paris, where he was formerly mayor.

    The move comes a week after Dassault's parliamentary immunity was lifted, reports AFP news agency.

    Dassault was interrogated on Wednesday in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, a judicial source said.

    The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying which influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close
    associate Jean-Pierre Bechter.

    The result of the 2008 vote, won by Dassault, was invalidated by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration discovered a series of payments which could have influenced the outcome of the election.

    That ruling did not require the same burden of proof as a criminal prosecution for vote buying would, but formal charges against Dassault now look inevitable.

    Bechter has already been charged, as has Cristela de Oliveira, a former official in the mayor's office who is suspected of allocating council flats to families in return for backing Dassault or Bechter.

    As well as the alleged vote-buying, Dassault could be charged with money-laundering and misuse of public assets, sufficiently serious crimes to raise the possibility of a prison term.

    In 1998, Dassault received a two-year suspended prison sentence in Belgium for bribing members of the country's Socialist Party to win an army-helicopter contract in what became known as the Agusta scandal.

    SOURCE: AFP


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