Buried in the corners of newspaper ‘world news’ sections, a curious article about illicit arms trading probably went largely unnoticed by most people…unless you happen to be French.
A 468-page prosecution dossier “read like something from an Ian Fleming plot” (Daily Telegraph, London), detailing murky arms dealings with an ex-minister and a president’s son, facilitating warfare in an oil-rich African nation.
The benefactor nation was Angola. The profiteer from war was France.
Two of the 36 people convicted over the illegal shipments were ex-French interior minister Charles Pasqua and Jean-Christophe Mitterand – son of former President Francois Mitterand. There are now claims the French government knew all along, leading to demands that government files on all transactions be made public.
An illegal operation, led by a billionaire Russian-Israeli businessman and his French counter-part, traded a $790m arsenal between 1993-98. Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos received arms in exchange for oil.
Within this murky cast and plot – involving cash-stuffed suitcases and secret meetings – one name has slipped under the radar: Diana, Princess of Wales. Within this great scandal is one thus far skirted over fact.
In 1997, with these illegal trades at their height, Diana used the killing fields of Angola to launch her anti-landmine campaign, bringing with her an escalating awareness and intense global spotlight. With the promise of similar visits to Cambodia and Vietnam, she had the humanitarian bit between her teeth – putting her in silent conflict with the dealers and manufacturers who made billions from this mines-industry…in the US and Europe.
Twelve years after her death in a car crash in Paris, what we now learn is that among the arsenal sent to Angola were 170,000 landmines (along with 420 tanks, 12 helicopters and six warships) supplied by a covert French network.
I wonder if she’s now spinning in her grave? I also wonder who, in journalism, is now asking the legitimate questions stirred by this new fact (whether the media can be bothered these days is another matter)
My nostrils flare when the words ‘arms, government and secret trades’ create a pungent smell of their own. And we’ve learned something new this week – that when Diana was banging her solo drum in Angola, she wasn’t just walking through a literal minefield, she was treading on some heavily invested French soil. And if that’s not worthy of at least further journalistic investigation, I don’t know what is.