French Senate lifts Serge Dassault immunity clearing way for charges
French Senate waives immunity of billionaire lawmaker suspected of paying election bribes
Agence France-Presse in Paris
The French Senate yesterday lifted immunity for a billionaire industrialist senator, Serge Dassault, clearing the way for him to face criminal charges for alleged vote-buying.
The decision by a Senate committee means Dassault, 88, can immediately be taken into custody for interrogation by judges investigating allegations dating from his time as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes, a Paris suburb he has been accused of running like a mafia godfather.
Dassault is ranked by Forbes as France's fourth-richest man and the 69th richest in the world with an estimated fortune of €13 billion (HK$138 billion).
Dassault announced earlier this week that he had requested the lifting of his own immunity - but only when it seemed inevitable that the Senate committee would approve the move in light of the criticism generated by its previous refusals to do so.
The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying which influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault, or by his successor and close associate, Jean-Pierre Bechter.
The result of the 2008 vote, won by Dassault, was invalidated by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration discovered a series of payments which could have influenced the outcome of the election.
That ruling did not require the same burden of proof as a criminal prosecution for vote-buying would, but formal charges against Dassault now look inevitable.
Bechter has already been charged, as has Cristela de Oliveira, a former official in the mayor's office suspected of allocating council flats to families in return for backing Dassault or Bechter.
Dassault, who had been mayor of the formerly communist-run municipality from 1995, has admitted using his fortune to help numerous individuals and organisations in the town, but denies that any payouts were made in return for guaranteed support at the ballot box.
The vote-buying investigation has been linked by the media to two shootings which took place in Corbeil last year and are being considered as attempted murders. The case has also triggered allegations of attempted extortion and intimidation, both by and against Dassault.