Probe on French engineers’ killings focuses on submarine money

A probe into the 2002 killing of 11 French engineers in Karachi is focusing on France's failure to pay a commission for the sale of submarines to Pakistan, according to a lawyer for the victims' families.


AFP - A probe into the 2002 killing of 11 French engineers in Pakistan is focusing on France's failure to pay a commission for the sale of submarines to Pakistan, a lawyer for the victims' families said Thursday.

The lawyer, Olivier Morice, said former president Jacques Chirac and former prime minister Edouard Balladur had been mentioned in the decision to halt the payments.

Morice spoke after two French anti-terrorist investigating magistrates had met with families of the engineers killed in the attack on May 8, 2002 in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

A car packed with explosives was driven into a minibus carrying the Frenchmen, all engineers working for a French state firm, DCN, that was building submarines for Pakistan. The 11 engineers and three Pakistanis were killed.

Investigators had been looking into an Al-Qaeda link to the attack.

But Morice told AFP: "The Al-Qaeda track has been totally abandoned. The motive for the attack appears linked to the non-payment of commissions."

Morice said the payments were stopped when Chirac became president in 1995 because he wanted to stop part of the money financing the campaign of Balladur, who was his political rival on the French right at the time.

Magali Drouet, a daughter of one of the men killed, quoted one of the anti-terrorist judges, Marc Trevidic, as telling the families that this theory was "cruelly logical".

She added that according to this scenario, the attack was carried out because the special payments were not made by France to Asif Ali Zardari, who is now Pakistan's president but was a minister at the time.

High-ranking politicians would likely be called in to testify, said Morice.

Details of the payments emerged in 2008 as part of an investigation into French arms sales.

Police seized documents from the French firm, now known as DCNS, which discussed the companies used to pay fees in connection with arms sales.

One unsigned document spoke of Pakistan intelligence services using Islamist militants.

It claimed that "the Karachi attack was carried out with complicity within the (Pakistani) army and the office supporting Islamist guerrillas" within Pakistani intelligence.

The document, which has been added to the case file, said those who employed the Islamist group had financial aims.

"It involved obtaining the payment of unpaid commissions" linked to the sale of French submarines to Pakistan in 1994, it said.

A French investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "new elements" had been found in the inquiry, but declined to give details.

Balladur, head of the French government before Chirac became president, said Thursday that he knew of nothing improper in the submarine deals.

"There were indeed agreements made with the Pakistani government," he told French television. "To my knowledge, all of it was perfectly regular. I have nothing else to add."

Two alleged members of Al-Qaeda-linked group Harkatul Mujahideen al-Aalmi were found guilty by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan in 2003 over the Karachi attack.

But the high court in the southern province of Sindh last month acquitted the pair, saying in an order that "the prosecution has failed to prove the case against the appellants beyond any reasonable doubt."