Sarkozy lashes out at media over Karachi affair reports
* Denies involvement, angry at media ‘assumptions’
PARIS: Angry remarks by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told reporters privately that linking him to kickbacks for French submarine sales was as absurd as him calling one journalist a paedophile, were made public on Tuesday after being leaked by a magazine.
Infuriated by reports linking him to an investigation into possible kickbacks to French politicians in the 1990s, Sarkozy lashed out at a journalist in Lisbon last week and said he could just as easily accuse him of being a paedophile.
In a media briefing on Friday that was “off the record”, Sarkozy launched a tirade against sloppy reporting, saying journalists should check their facts and not just make assumptions when writing reports. “The worldÂ’s gone mad here. There’s not a single one among you who believes I’d go and organise commissions and kickbacks on submarines for Pakistan. This is incredible,” said Sarkozy in Lisbon for a weekend NATO summit. To stress his point he turned to one journalist and said “And you. I’ve nothing against you. It appears that you’re a paedophile… Who told me? ItÂ’s my personal belief. Can you justify that?”
Sarkozy remarked “See you tomorrow my paedophile friendsÂ” to the journalists present as he walked off. His comments were published online by the weekly Express under the headline “Sarkozy’s off-record anger” and picked up by other media. The presidential palace declined to comment on Tuesday.
The submarine kickbacks affair surfaced just as Sarkozy was enjoying some respite from a political funding scandal involving his centre-right UMP party and France’s richest woman, billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The submarine deal in question was signed in the mid-1990s, when Sarkozy was budget minister under prime minister Edouard Balladur and spokesman for Balladur when the latter ran for president in a contest he lost to Jacques Chirac in 1995. The contracts with Pakistan, and commission payments to intermediaries, have come under the spotlight since a 2002 suicide bomb attack on a bus in Karachi that killed 11 French nationals working on the submarine project.
Payments linked to the contracts were allegedly also sent back to France, and victims’ families and their lawyers demanded last week that Sarkozy and Chirac be questioned over the affair.
French media reported on Tuesday that investigators were looking at documents dating from 2006 and addressed to Sarkozy relating to payments connected to the submarine contracts.
In his unofficial exchange with the journalists in Lisbon, Sarkozy said he had strictly nothing to do with the submarine sale as budget minister. His office issued a statement the same day denying any involvement by the president.
Defence Minister Alain Juppe defended Sarkozy’s anger as understandable. He also told RTL radio that certain documents relating to the matter could be handed to the investigators and that he was ready to answer their questions. Juppe, whom Chirac appointed as prime minister in 1995, said Chirac told him then that he had ordered a halt to commissions for the submarine deal and noted that paying such fees to foreign intermediaries was legal at the time. Dominique de Villepin, also a prime minister under Chirac and Sarkozy’s political arch- rival, said last week that he had “very strong suspicions of illegal back-payments”.
Source: Daily Times