New evidence in case of French billionaire accused of vote-buying

Senator Serge Dassault believed to have given away €7m

A French newspaper has divulged material evidence that the conservative Senator Serge Dassault purchased votes in mayoral elections

A French newspaper has divulged material evidence that the conservative Senator Serge Dassault purchased votes in mayoral elections

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 01:00

Libération newspaper has divulged material evidence that the conservative Senator Serge Dassault (88), France’s fifth richest individual with a fortune estimated at €12.8 billion, purchased votes in mayoral elections in the south Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes.

Dassault inherited Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the Mirage and Rafale fighter bombers and Falcon business jets. He purchased Le Figaro , the country’s leading conservative newspaper, in 2004.

The incriminating document was seized by the national division of financial and fiscal investigations during a search of Dassault’s residence. A photographic excerpt published by Libération yesterday shows columns marked “names”, “paid”, “unpaid” and “comments”.

The document is being used to contact witnesses in the investigation opened in March 2013 into “corruption, fraud and vote-buying” in Corbeil town hall, where Dassault served as mayor from 1995 until he was disqualified by the council of state for “gifts of money” in 2009. Dassault’s parliamentary immunity was lifted on February 12th and he was questioned on February 19th and 20th.

“I should never have given money for any projects,” Dassault said during his interrogation. “I got caught up in it… In no case were these acts of generosity linked to possible votes in my favour.”


‘Gifts’
Some 130 residents of Corbeil received “gifts” from Dassault in December 2009 and January 2010, following the election of his trusted employee and chosen successor, Jean-Pierre Bechter, in October 2009. Bechter won by only 27 votes, campaigning on the slogan “A vote for Bechter is a vote for Dassault”. Four years after he was forced to step down as mayor, “Sergio” – as Dassault is known in Corbeil – continues to maintain his office there.

More than 70 names on the ledger revealed by Libération received hundreds or thousands of euro from Dassault. The remainder were given jobs at town hall, training, reimbursement for fines or local taxes, support on leaving prison…

The Dassaults are one of France’s most colourful families. Serge’s Jewish father Marcel, né Bloch, was deported to Buchenwald during the second Word War, when Serge, his mother and brother were held at the transit camp at Drancy.

After the war, Marcel, who died in 1986, changed his name to Dassault (after an assault tank) and forged a career in industry, politics and media. He looked down on Serge, who always attempted to emulate him, a pattern repeated by Serge’s eldest son, Olivier.

It took Serge four tries over 18 years to become mayor of Corbeil, a former communist stronghold whose high-rise housing projects are inhabited by African and Arab immigrants.

Nouvel Observateur magazine has called the case “Monsieur Dassault in the land of thugs”. In December 2012, two disaffected Dassault supporters, a boxer named Fatah Hou and René Andrieu, who had served 11 years in prison for armed robbery, demanded money of Dassault. Hou and Andrieu secretly filmed the meeting. “Younès” had distributed all the money, Dassault said. “There’s no more Lebanon…I’m not going to pay twice. I can’t take any more out; I’m being watched by police.”

Dassault allegedly channelled €3.2 million for Younès Bounouara, the alleged chief of vote-buying, through Beirut in 2011, and €1.2 million for a Mamadou Kebbeh, who has since told how he bought votes for Dassault in the projects.

In February 2013, Bounouara, known as “Fat Lizard”, fired three bullets into a car carrying Hou and Andrieu in Corbeil. Hou is partially paralysed, and Bounouara is in prison.

It was the second attempted murder in the Dassault case, after Rachid Toumi, another former Dassault supporter, was shot in January 2013. Toumi also claims he bought votes on behalf of Dassault.