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Shootings, corruption and video tape - French billionaire Dassault faces custody in vote-buying inquiry

Serge Dassault
Serge Dassault creative commons / Kyro

Billionaire plane manufacturer Serge Dassault faced custody in a vote-buying scandal with the Senate set to lift his parliamentary immunity on Wednesday. Dassault's home base, Parisian suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, has seen shootings in the street and allegations of corruption, blackmail and death threats.

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The 88-year-old billionaire, whose Dassault aerospace company builds the Mirage and Rafale jet fighters, was to have his parliamentary immunity lifted on Wednesday after he himself decided to waive it "to show that anything I have done is beyond reproach".

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The Senate has twice refused to lift his immunity, the last time on 8 January to the consternation of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and many media commentators.

Magistrates are looking into accusations of vote-buying in council elections in Corbeil-Essonnes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

As well as being a senator for France's main right-wing party, the UMP, Dassault was mayor of the town from 1995 to 2009 and was succeeded by his protege, Jean-Pierre Bechter, in 2010.

The result of the 2008 vote was annulled by the national administration watchdog, the Council of State, because it judged that payments had been made for votes.

Dassault and his allies are alleged to have run a network of dubious characters to extend their influence in the town's poorer neighbourhoods.

Several other legal cases have been linked to an alleged mafia-style political system in Corbeil-Essonnes:

  • Shot in the street: Ex-boxer Fatah Hou was seriously injured in a shooting for which Dassault associate Younes Bounouara was detained in November. Rachid Toumi claimed in a video last year that he had been shot repeatedly as a warning not to blow the whistle on vote-buying for Dassault and his associates.
  • Given two million euros: Dassault admits giving Bounouara two million euros "because he's helped me quite a lot". He claims to have been threatened by a gang that believed he had been given money to buy votes but kept it for himself.
  • Framed in Morocco: Hou has accused Dassault, Bechter, a Moroccan local council employee and a Moroccan diplomat of trying to get him arrested in Morocco so as to prevent him returning to Corbeil-Essonnes.
  • Extortion and death threats: Three brothers have been questioned by police over accusations by Dassault's children, including Senator Olivier Dassault, of extortion, invasion of privacy, threatening phone calls and breach of secrecy. Dassault's lawyer, Jean Veil, claims to have received death threats by SMS.
  • Blackmail and leaked videos: A former Dassault associate and ex-burglar, René Andrieu, is accused of being the head of a gang of blackmailers, who handed a video of Dassault apparently admitting he had given money to Bounouara to the Mediapart website. Several other allegedly compromising videos have been published by other media.

Dassault could face charges of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and vote-buying.

With a fortune of 13 billion euros, according to Forbes magazine, he is France's fourth-richest man and the world's 69th richest.

The Dassault group owns France's main right-wing paper, Le Figaro, and various other interests, including a horse auction company and a Bordeaux wine chaâteau.

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