How France Brokers Deals In Libya


History will record 21 August 2011 as the day a clear victor finally emerged in the Libyan Civil War.

Troops of the insurgency entered the capital, Tripoli, amid celebrations and demonstrations from a population who’d had enough of the dictator. Muammar Gaddafi’s palace was stormed, rebels danced ecstatically around a giant golden hand crushing a US aeroplane. The fist had long been a symbol of Gaddafi’s defiance, and the ability of his regime to withstand the hither and thither of geopolitical fortune.

Many around the world were surprised by the speed at which the rebels seem to have broken through to Tripoli, after six months of apparent stalemate around Brega. Part of that surprise was due to the international media, which had been underreporting some rebel gains over the past few weeks.

Yet the crucial rebel offensive almost coincided with negotiations held on the Tunisian island of Djerba between Gaddafi loyalists, members of the insurgency, the UN and French intermediaries.

Just one week before the rebels’ push into Tripoli, former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin confirmed that he’d been visiting the island, interceding in talks between the two sides and the United Nations.

De Villepin was said to have close links to Béchir Salah Béchir, the Libyan president’s chief of cabinet and the real number two in the government since the start of the civil war.

He also knows Hugo Chavez, the Latin American caudillo, one of Gaddafi’s key supporters, who also sent an emissary to the Tunisian island.

Whatever the agreement concluded at Djerba — the sometimes well-informed Israeli Internet site Debka claims several of Gaddafi’s children are to stay in power as a result of the talks — there has been additional interest surrounding the man alleged to be accompanying De Villepan at those talks.

Sources quoted by Spanish daily Público reported that de Villepin was at the talks with a close mate of his, the French businessman Alexandre Djouhri, currently a resident of Switzerland. The paper says the two were seen deep in consultations with Omrane Abu Kraa, the Libyan oil minister who later defected, electing to stay in Tunisia.

Djouhri has the reputation as one of the biggest deal brokers, or "intermediaries", in the Republic’s history. His circle comes close to a "who’s who" of political Paris: from former Prime Minister de Villepin, with whom he’s holidayed, to Dominique Strauss Kahn and Sarkozy ministers like Claude Guéant.

When Paris Match tried to compile a profile about him recently, they didn’t get far. A spokesperson for Strauss Kahn — who is also a spokesperson for the magazine’s owner, Arnaud Lagardère — intervened to have the story stopped.

It isn’t known how Djouhri made his fortune, having been born in modest circumstances in the notoriously poor suburb in the Parisian banlieue, Saint Denis.

His job as an "intermediary", too, is somewhat nebulous. Intermediaries have been the source of some of the biggest corruption scandals in the 5th Republic. They’re notorious for taking a cut on state or part state contracts they’ve set up, later wiring a cut back to politicians through hidden societies and trusts. The politicians then use the deals to fund their political campaigns.

A good example is one of Djourhri’s rivals, Ziad Takieddine. He’s been in the news recently for his big cut on French deals made with Gaddafi’s regime made in the later part of last decade.

Supported by leaked documents they published on the web, independent website Mediapart has shown that Takieddine was the man in the middle between Sarkozy’s faction of the ruling UMP conservative party and Gaddafi after relations improved from 2005 on, when Gaddafi temporarily became a Western "partner".

Organising trips by Sarkozy and allied conservatives like Brice Hortefeux and Guéant, Takieddine was able to wrangle himself millions of euros in secret commissions on the sale of digital technology to Gaddafi’s regime designed to help him encrypt his communications from then relatively friendly Western governments.

Mediapart says Takieddine promised key collaborator Guéant (then a senior public servant and later to become Sarkozy’s interior minister) "total control" over any Libyan markets opened up in the future soon after he began to negotiate deals between Paris and Tripoli.

Among those Libyan markets on offer was that involving border control technology (useful to protect Libya from hoards of sub-Saharan Africans aiming to get into the wealthier northern African nation or into Europe). The other deals promised to French companies included markets in biometric passport technology and the "modernisation" of Libya’s air force.

After the 2007 election that brought Sarkozy to power, the collaboration between Paris and Tripoli — with Takieddine as deal maker — only accelerated, with the French oil and gas company Total paying him a near 7 million euros cut in 2009 in relation to a gas deal concluded with the Libyan regime.

The deal was concluded "with the support of the Elysée" presidential palace, according to Mediapart. It’s not been shown that Takieddine funded political campaigns with his Libyan manoeuvring. But his early trips to Libya did coincide with the period in the lead up to Sarkozy’s presidential race in 2007.

And the Mediapart reports would seem to support allegations by Gaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam, in March — when he claimed that the Libyan regime "funded Sarkozy’s election campaign".

The deals made in Libya are also similar to arrangements Takieddine made on Pakistani deals in 1995, which are believed to have funded a challenger to Jacques Chirac, Éduoard Balladur, whose spokesperson was Sarkozy.

Given this background, when Djouhri and de Villepin were allegedly seen together in Tunisia just days before a crucial transition of power in Libya — with a variety of government contracts presumably null and void — some were suspicious. Especially with the French presidential election fixed for the northern spring next year.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.