Saturday, May 29, 2004

Cloak and Dagger: Thierry Imbot R.I.P.

NP'ers, if you've been paying attention, you should all be familiar with this scandal (I've blogged about how it connects to larger global events here). But one of the innumerable scandals surrounding former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, also known as the "Prince of Intrigue," it concerns the illicit sale of 6 French frigates to Taiwan in 1991, a $3 billion sale that generated commissions at around $550 million, or almost 20%. It was known as "Operation Bravo."

Authorities alleged Dumas persuaded oil giant Elf (since merged with Total to form the world's fourth largest oil company) to hire his old girl-friend, an erstwhile underwear model named Christine Deviers-Joncours whose furious memoirs were entitled "Whore of the Republic" and detailed her exploitative and business entangled affairs with France's most powerful men. Authorities also alleged Elf then paid Deviers-Joncours millions of francs to bribe Dumas so that he would approve the sale of the frigates, which were manufactured by Thomson, a defense contractor that was then publicly owned. In exchange for their influence peddling, Elf allegedly received a commission on the sale. Dumas was also alleged to have received a few goodies directly, including $1,900 worth of Italian shoes and five antique statues worth $47,000. Dumas had long opposed the deal in accordance with mainland Chinese wishes but suffered a conspicuous change of heart. (He was sentenced to six months but his conviction was recently overturned after a court found he hadn't yet actually received the bribes from Elf). He also won a judgment for libel against Le Monde and their investigative reporter Hervé Gattegno, who accused Dumas of using the Conseil constitutionnel to protect Jacques Chirac from criminal prosecution for corruption while in office. See more here).


There's been some developments... Earlier this month, the Advisory Commission on National Defense Secrecy (CCSDN) ruled that the Defense ministry could make public a selection of reports written by the recently deceased Thierry Imbot, head of of French intelligence in Taiwan. (He worked there for the agency, which is known as the Central Foreign Security Directorate (DGSE), from 1991 to 1993). The CCSDN has, however, refused to advise the release of Imbot's notes, which it said would reveal French intelligence gathering methods but do not directly concern the sales.

An unlikely candidate for suicide, Thierry died on October 10, 2000, age 48. He was found at the bottom of a stairwell, having fallen from his window four stories to his death. According to the AFP, authorities ruled the death an accident but Imbot's father says that his son's body landed too far from the building for this to be true. He also said that prior to his death, his son had spoken of massive graft in the case.

Imbot's father René was head of DGSE from 1985 - 1998. An interview given to Le Monde on May 14 contained the following exchanges with him:
In 1985, I was surprised to learn that we had close collaborations with the CIA, for example, but none with China, though we had a common enemy, the USSR. Beijing asked me to assign a correspondent over there: I named my son. He left in July 1986 and the Chinese opened all their doors for him. He was even brought into the company of General Masud. When I left DGSE, my successor needed a liaison to the CIA. He designated my son who left for Washington and worked on the Gulf War in particular in 1991.

How did Thierry Imbot end up in Taiwan?

Claude Silberzahn [head of DGSE from 1989 to 1993] needed an officer in Taiwan while economic discussions were going on with France regarding the sale of Mirage planes and frigates. He was sent there in September of 1991 under a cover provided by the Finance minsitry. Then in 1993, DGSE withdrew him from this position and my son sought to leave the service in order to get married. He remained in close contact with DGSE.

Did he reveal anything to you about the sale of frigates to Taiwan?

Not really. He just said to me one day, "Dad, you can't imagine the fortune that some people made in the frigate operations." He spoke of two people, a Chinese man and a French one.

Did he mention these things in his reports to the DGSE?

He wrote many reports. In their notes to their superiors, agents write everything they know. My son had to have mentioned these payments. I know that Silberzahn has supposedly told the investigators that he can no longer remember any reports written by my son. It's unthinkable! If these reports do not harm national security, which I believe, it is irregular that they shouldn't be declassified.

Your son returned to France, where de died on October 10, 2000, having fallen from his window...

I think that he frightened some people when he came back to France. He had this "accident." I went to the scene the day after it happened. I saw where the body had been. When you fall from a window, you fall vertically. My son's body was much further off.
Continue reading "Cloak and Dagger: Thierry Imbot R.I.P." ...

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