While Cold War surplus weapons from
Eastern Europe were widely sold, often illegally, during the 1990s, some
Western nations got in on the illicit trade. French prosecutors are currently
investigating 42 French politicians and government officials who did a little
gunrunning themselves between 1993 and 2000. The weapons, including warships
and tanks, went to the Angolan government, which had previously been backed by
the Soviet Union (which ceased to exist in 1991).
The weapons sold at
premium prices, to provide large enough profits to pay all the bribes
needed to get the weapons past regulations and laws that were in the way.
Apparently, French officials were for sale, were bought, and helped get nearly
a billion dollars worth of weapons into Angola. During the 27 years of civil
war, over half a million Angolans were killed.
The Angolan Civil War was largely based on tribal
coalitions. It began shortly after Portugal gave up its colonial rule in 1974.
One of those coalitions grabbed the Angolan oil fields early on, and opted to
call on the Soviet Union as an ally. When the
Soviet military aid disappeared, the government agreed to a vote, with
the rebel groups (which controlled most of the country, but not the oil fields)
participating. The rebels soon pulled out of this deal, not trusting the
government (and not getting the majority of the votes either), and the war
continued. The government used its oil money to buy weapons wherever it could.
It was believed that most of this stuff was being supplied by Russian
gunrunners. But the new investigation revealed that the French officials
offered protection, and essential business contacts to the Russian gunrunners,
who were moving the weapons to Angola. In return, millions of dollars went to
the French officials.
Before the current investigation, there was much
speculation about why the Russian gunrunners always seemed to find a safe haven
in France, despite the fact that they were obviously engaging in an illegal
arms trade to Africa. If the French prosecutor can prove his case, we'll
finally know why.