France: More dirty money?

The Thalys is a smart, ultra-rapid red train that runs from the Gare du Nord in Paris to a series of other cities in Western Europe, including Brussels.  International train travel these days is so effortless, with no immigration or customs controls, that you barely realise you’re crossing national borders. There are police and customs officers at the Gare du Nord but you rarely if ever see them.

So it must have been a surprise for M. Boris Boillon, former close adviser to Nicholas Sarkozy, former Ambassador turned “consultant”, now a Belgian resident, to be stopped by customs officers and asked if he was had any money to declare (compulsory if you are leaving the country with more than €10,000). His denial was not accepted, and a search of his bag revealed €350,000 and $40,0000 dollars in cash. His explanation, that this was related to his time as Ambassador in Iraq, has not convinced anyone.

Two things are of interest here. First, had he declared the money in advance, he would have not committed a crime. Thus, he must have wanted to keep the transfer in cash secret. Second, he travelled without any identity papers, and without a mobile phone: the latter, of course, meaning that he could not be traced electronically. Not quite the behaviour of your typical businessman.

Apart from his reputation as the worst Ambassador even sent overseas by the French government (Tunisians demonstrated in front of the Embassy, calling on him to go home), Boillon is what the French call a “Sarkoboy”. Involved in delicate negotiations with the Libyan régime for the release of some Bulgarian nurses, he was used as the channel for discreet contacts between Paris and Benghazi, and made responsible for organising Ghadafi’s phantasmagoric 2007 visit to France where the he was received with every honour. Indeed the Libyan “Guide” apparently referred to Boillon as “my son”.

So it’s hardly surprising if a lot of people are now starting to make a connection between the Gare du Nord incident and the persistent rumours of planned or actual Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign. Was the money somehow being recycled, to help with the desperate financial problems of Sarkozy’s party, the UMP? Or, given the number of dirty dealings Sarkozy is known to have been involved in, was it the financial detritus of another scandal entirely? A new book on the Libyan issue is coming out next week, so more may become clear then.

The more that the Libyan connection can be demonstrated, obviously, the more interesting things could get, and the more devastating the consequences. In particular, the conspiratorial explanation of the Libyan war, already popular in some quarters, will be massively reinforced. After all, say its proponents, Sarkozy devoted a huge amount of effort to normalising relations with Libya, and was actively pursuing major arms and energy contracts there, on behalf of some of his main financial backers. In such circumstances, letting an unpopular leader fall is one thing, they argue, but declaring war on him is quite another. And is some circumstantial evidence supporting this theory: French troops were around when the Libyan leader’s convoy was bombed and he was dragged out and and beaten to death. A number of those who have claimed that Libya financed the 2007 election campaign have mysteriously disappeared, or in one case been spirited out of France.

We’ll see. But this is going to be the juiciest political scandal in France since, oh, a very long time, however precisely it turns out. And it may be about to unravel fast. I simply don’t believe that Boillon was stopped by chance. I’ve never seen that happen on the Thalys and, if you were the French Customs, would you randomly pick on a middle-aged white businessman as a target? This suggests that someone, somewhere, is talking, and even if this is not about Libya, it’s about something else that could blow Sarko out of the water, for good this time.

Watch, as they say, this space.

 

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