The Field Marshal
from the 11-part series
Making a Killing
The Business of War
The Center for Public Integrity
By the bloody standard set in Africa in
the last decade, the 1997 conflict in Congo-Brazzaville between
forces loyal to Pascal Lissouba, the elected president of the
country, and Denis Sassou Nguesso, who succeeded him, was a small
war. It barely merited mention in the wire dispatches of international
news services, despite a death toll as high as 10,000 and another
800,000 people forced to flee their homes because of the conflict.
On Oct. 15, 1997, after six months of
fighting, Nguesso's Cobra rebels, backed by troops sent by Angola-which
had its own interests in the country-prevailed, driving Lissouba
into exile. He flew to London via Gabon, ending his four-year
reign during which his various economic reforms had failed to
alleviate the nation's poverty. In addition to this legacy, Lissouba
left behind a multi-million dollar debt for weapons his government
had purchased to fight Nguesso's Cobras.
Over a three-month period in 1997, Lissouba's
government ordered more than $60 million in arms. A dozen shipments
brought helicopters, rockets, missiles and bombs from a handful
of countries to Congo-Brazzaville. Executives of the French state-owned
company, Elf Aquitaine which pumped oil from the country
and was a longtime player in its various changes in government,
often befriending both sides had arranged a loan backed
by the country's future petroleum production to pay for the armaments.
Yet Lissouba was forced to flee before the payments could be made,
leaving the middleman who had arranged the shipments owed millions
That middleman, Jacques Monsieur, was
not the sort of man to write off his losses. Believed to be among
the biggest arms traffickers in Europe, Monsieur had violated
a United Nations embargo by shipping arms to Bosnia and Croatia
during the long bloody conflict in those countries, with the approval,
he later claimed, of both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
and the Direction de Surveillance de Territoire (DST), the French
domestic intelligence service. He later
forfeited his good relations with Washington by acting as an importer-exporter
of arms for the Islamic Republic of Iran, for whom he also tried
to procure uranium. He worked closely with executives from the
French oil giant, Elf Aquitaine, the state-owned petroleum company
that, until its merger with TotalFina in 2000 to form TotalFinaElf,
was the sixth largest oil producer in the world. Though he had
aroused the ire of U.S. government officials and was under investigation
by French and Belgian law enforcement authorities, Monsieur lived
openly in France, all the while violating international sanctions
by shipping arms to war-torn countries.
In order to get paid for the Congo-Brazzaville
deal, Monsieur threatened to reveal everything about his deals,
embarrassing the French intelligence services, former officials
of Elf Aquitaine, and African heads of state. The Elf executives
had the most to fear: at the time of his threats, the French government
was investigating the company's long history of corruption, including
its involvement in the trade of weapons in exchange for oil, and
its manipulation of African politics.
Jacques de Naurois, the director for institutional
relations for TotalFinaElf, said, "Whatever the French foreign
policy towards Africa was, Elf Aquitaine was only concerned with
exploiting the oil. For the rest, we leave historians to explain
and resolve the mysteries of ancient history." When asked
if Elf had been involved in arms deals, he answered "No,"
The trials of Elf scandalized France and
reached into the upper echelons of the country's ruling elite,
including the former foreign minister, Roland Dumas, who kept
his mistress, Christine Deviers-Joncourt, on the Elf payroll.
Dumas was sentenced in June 2001 to six months in prison for corruption
and abuse of public property. To date, 42 people have been charged
in connection with the arms and corruption scandals and several
have been convicted, including Elf's former chief executive officer
Loik le Floch-Prigent and his right-hand man Alfred Sirven.
Monsieur's career, including his dispute
over the unpaid weapons he shipped to the Lissouba government
in 1997, illustrates that often arms traders who are ostensibly
profit-seeking freelancers actually serve the interests of Western
intelligence services and corporate elites. They violate U.N.
arms embargoes with the implicit sometimes explicit
approval of government officials, and attempt to tip the balance
in armed conflicts for the benefits of business interests.
A Belgian born on March 31, 1953, Monsieur,
nicknamed "the field marshal," had been active in arms
trading since the 1980s. He was a participant in the Iran-Contra
affair, but the first solid information about his dealings came
from the Belgian federal police, who in 1986 found a suitcase
in Brussels that belonged to him.
The documents in his suitcase revealed
that Monsieur was in contact with the Israeli intelligence service
Mossad, as well as Iran, and that he had been attempting to export
Armbrust grenade launchers German-built light anti-tank
weapons - without a license. Monsieur obtained false "end
user" certificates from other countries, especially the former
This first investigation of his activities,
however, led nowhere. According to Belgian law, Armbrust launchers
are regarded as "hunting weapons," not weapons of war.
Though he had not broken Belgian law, European law enforcement
authorities began to keep track of Monsieur.
But law enforcement authorities weren't
the only ones with an interest in the Belgian arms dealer. Monsieur
had very good contacts in France, both with the DST and executives
from Elf Aquitaine. France appeared to be the protector of Monsieur,
who had relocated his operations there in 1993. For six years,
while authorities from Europe continued investigating his activities,
he lived there openly, despite growing evidence of his involvement
in illegal arms trading. In 1999, French authorities indicted
him for his weapons trafficking. The court proceedings that followed
revealed more information about his career and his connections
to the DST and Elf executives.
In September 2000, Monsieur told a French
judge of having been contacted in 1991 in Brussels by the CIA,
and, with the blessing of the French DST, of having sent tens
of millions of dollars of weapons to Croatia. From 1991 to 1995,
he found his best markets in Croatia and Bosnia, even though the
two countries were under a United Nations embargo.
Another French magistrate, who is well
versed in the Croatian trafficking case, said it was a political
operation. "A decision from on high led, in 1995, to the
cancellation of a fourth wave of weapons deliveries to former
Yugoslavia," implying that French authorities had tacitly
approved the prior three "waves" of weapons shipments.
While his good relations with the DST
were useful to Monsieur, he said he had a far closer relationship
with Elf Aquitaine that began in the early 1990s. He claimed that
Elf was prepared to finance some of the arms trafficker's deals.
A letter sent by Monsieur in 1991 to a Polish arms manufacturer
on behalf of an Angolan colonel states this explicitly. In the
letter, which was discovered by Belgian investigators, Monsieur
organized the transportation of tanks, transport helicopters,
attack helicopters, and assault rifles to Angola. To the Polish
dealer, Monsieur wrote that those weapons are "to be financed
by budget or L/C" (Loan/credit), and he mentioned that he
had the financial green light from Elf Aquitaine: "This has
been confirmed by Elf themselves."
TotalFinaElf's de Naurois said Elf had
no relationship with Monsieur. "Elf Aquitaine was a company
that deals with oil, not with weapons," he said. He also
denied that Elf had ever financed any of Monsieur's arms deals.
Monsieur was not the first to assert that
Elf Aquitaine was linked to arms trading in an oil-rich country.
As the French newspaper Le Monde revealed in a 12-part investigative
series in 1998, Elf Aquitaine was infiltrated from its founding
in 1965 by secret agents who were charged with working out ways
of getting access to the oil fields of Africa. The company was
formed just as access to petroleum became a crucial strategic
matter for France. When the country's colonies in sub-Saharan
Africa and Algeria gained their independence, France lost its
easy access to their oil reserves, and became oil thirsty. Elf
was set up to slake that thirst by whatever means necessary.
Jacques Foccart, the French politician
and confidante of Charles de Gaulle, who masterminded France's
Africa policy between the 1950s and his death in 1997, put it
candidly: "To defend the interests of our country, we cannot
be afraid to extend our hand to the devil."
As has now been well documented in the
French court cases, wherever Elf Aquitaine found oil, it worked
hard to create the political conditions that would guarantee easy
access to it. In the oil-rich former colony of Gabon, Elf operatives
and the French army were instrumental in the coup that toppled
President Laurent Mba in 1964, less than four years after independence.
An obscure thug named Omar Bongo, who had been on the payroll
of the French secret service, became the country's new master
a role that he has filled ever since. Soon after the coup,
Gabon became Elf Aquitaine's best oilfield and Bongo became an
extraordinarily rich man.
Elf was not averse to playing both sides
of a civil war. Le Floch-Prigent, Elf Aquitaine's CEO between
1989 and 1993, acknowledged aiding Jonas Savimbi, leader of the
rebel movement, UNITA, at the same time as the company was strengthening
its ties with the Angolan government of José Eduardo Dos
Santos in Luanda. In 1996, while he was serving a prison sentence,
Le Floch-Prigent wrote "a short history" of his involvement
in Elf and in Africa. He wrote that his role as Elf's CEO was
"to keep the equilibrium between Savimbi and Dos Santos in
Angola, in order to prevent either from winning."
Elf Aquitaine provided the government
with revenue through its payments for the right to exploit Angolan
oil fields, Le Floch-Prigent said, and paid UNITA to avoid attacks
on its installations and personnel. "Elf's problem in Angola
was that some of the company's installations in the country are
located in regions that regularly change hands," Le Floch-Prigent
said. "We therefore negotiated with [UNITA leader Jonas]
Savimbi to protect our materials and personnel. In the end, we
gave money to him." How much, he wouldn't say.
One of the key figures in Elf's African
oil dealings was an executive named Jack Sigolet. After serving
in the French military in Algeria, he joined the finance department
of the French state-owned Régie Autonome des Pétroles
(Independent Directorate of Petroleum) in 1962, which soon afterwards
became Elf Aquitaine. After the launch of Elf, he worked for four
years in Tehran, before returning to Europe to handle the finances
of the company. In 1978, he became chief of Elf's Africa finance
department, and pioneered a concept that has been adopted by many
oil companies since: the oil-backed loan.
In an interview with ICIJ, Sigolet explained
that such loans are the way for debt-ridden African heads of state
to pay their accounts, buy weapons or fulfill their need for splendor
by mortgaging future oil income. Oil money is the preserve of
the head of state, and the movement of money is unrelated to the
normal budget of the country, and thus requires that the deals
be discreet, he said.
"I advised that these financial schemes
should not develop in public space," said Sigolet. "A
certain secretiveness was required. This was achieved by my proposal
to the president [of Elf] to nominate me as 'chargé de
mission,' attached to both the head of Elf's oil department of
the group and to its finance department. Elf appointed me as a
kind of counselor to presidents or finance ministers of African
states, working with multilateral organizations (the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European bank, etc.). In the
furtherance of those activities, I was answerable to nobody inside
Sigolet said that, through him, Elf not
only provided oil-backed loans to African states and their leaders,
but also became a partner in the financial decision-making of
those leaders (TotalFinaElf's de Naurois denied Sigolet's characterization).
Sigolet also helped arrange arms deals for them, he told ICIJ,
including one failed deal with Monsieur that involved another
of Monsieur's favorite clients, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Shiite fundamentalists who took power
in Tehran in 1978 inherited weapons originally purchased by the
Shah's regime. But they had difficulty maintaining and upgrading
their military hardware, not least because of a U.S. arms embargo
on the country following the 1979 embassy hostage crisis. The
Iranian government did business with Monsieur because he was able
to provide it with new flight and defense material and spare parts
from the United States.
According to his own documents, in 1992
Monsieur transmitted to the Iranian Air Force plans devised by
the French company, Matra, for adapting its "Magic-2 Air
to Air" missile to the Phantom F-4 aircraft.
In 1992, Monsieur attempted to deliver
Electron radar material to Iran. Electron is the radar system
that tracks Hawk surface-to-air missiles. It is unclear whether
that radar material was delivered, but Monsieur did sell Tehran
a key technology that is currently used by Iranian airports for
civil aviation, according to an intelligence document.
Monsieur acted as an import-export agent
for the Iranian military. In addition to radar systems and aircraft
missiles, he proposed selling Bell-Agusta helicopters to Iran.
And on Aug. 22, 1996, Monsieur suggested to the Iranians that
they export weapons to the small central African state of Burundi,
a neighbor of Rwanda, in violation of a U.N. weapons embargo,
according to sources involved in investigating the affair. The
military head of state, the ethnic Tutsi Pierre Buyoya, had seized
power in a coup the previous month, threatening to plunge the
country into a new round of ethnic bloodletting between Hutus
In a document obtained by Belgian police,
Monsieur asked the Iranians their prices for mortars, assault
rifles, ammunitions and light artillery to be sold to Burundi.
He said that he would deliver the bulk by air with an Ilyushin
76, and reassured his Iranian counterparts that if they had the
slightest concern about the destination of the weapons, he could
find "other end users," suggesting that, as he had done
with the Armbrust launchers, Monsieur would falsify the documentation.
Neither the French nor the Belgian investigators were able to
determine whether the deal ever went through.
By this time, U.S. Customs officials had
seen enough. In 1996 they convinced Belgium to launch an investigation
of Monsieur. Soon afterwards, French authorities began their own
investigation into the sale of Stinger FIM-92A missiles to Iran.
Monsieur was by then living in Bourges, France, and presented
himself as a horse breeder.
Despite the investigations, Monsieur was
still able to deliver weapons some of them from Iran
to Congo-Brazzaville in the summer of 1997.
The long-standing dictator of Congo-Brazzaville,
Nguesso, was another of Elf and France's best friends in Africa
they even reportedly helped put him in power in 1979 in
one of the country's many coups. Jean-Pierre Cordier, the president
of the ethics committee of TotalFinaElf, said that it was "beyond
our imagination" to suggest that Elf would back a coup rather
than deal with the government in power.
In the euphoria over multiparty democracy
that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Nguesso was persuaded
to hold democratic elections in September 1993, which he promptly
lost to his old nemesis, Pascal Lissouba. The election result
didn't weaken Elf's standing in the country. Lissouba would later
claim that Omar Bongo, the leader of Gabon, and Andre Tarallo,
a senior executive from Elf, financed his election campaign by
giving him about a million French francs (or roughly $170,000)
in suitcases. Tarallo could not be reached for comment. De Naurois
of TotalFinaElf cited the ongoing investigation and declined to
comment on the election.
Lissouba whose financial advisor
was Jack Sigolet - initiated a series of economic reforms, including
a privatization program that led to thousands of bureaucrats losing
their jobs but failed to lift the country out of its poverty or
put bread on people's tables. Ethnically based militias further
undermined the stability of the country.
As the situation grew ever more dangerous,
Lissouba recruited Israeli mercenaries under retired Gen. Zeev
Zachrin, working for the Israeli private military company Levdan,
to train his militiamen. Lissouba's armed youths were up against
Nguesso's Cobras and the Ninjas of Bernard Kolela, the leader
of another opposition party in Brazzaville.
In early 1997, Lissouba was still in charge
in Brazzaville, but the Cobras were gaining in strength. On June
5, 1997, a civil war erupted and Lissouba desperately needed weapons.
Testifying in the lengthy investigation into corruption at Elf,
Lissouba told a French judge in December 2001 that he was offered
arms by the oil company. He said that Sigolet and Elf's "Mr.
Africa," Andre Tarallo-so-called because he had headed the
oil company's Africa division and overseen its Africa policy-had
offered to arm him. "He [Tarallo] said, 'You need a war chest'
Tarallo and Sigolet offered me arms."
From June 23 to Sept. 28, 1997, Lissouba
ordered from Monsieur 12 consignments of weapons worth $61.4 million.
Among those goods were five Russian-built attack helicopters,
rockets, missiles and bombs. Most of the light weapons were Iranian.
Forty Russian technicians and officers traveled with the materiel.
The invoices landed on the table of Col.
Yves-Marcel Ibala, at the Congolese Internal Affairs ministry,
which is in charge of security. To pay for the arms, the Lissouba
regime used a specific bank account, "MinFin-Congo,"
from the Paris offices of FIBA, a now-defunct French bank that
was owned by Elf, Bongo, and other private investors in Gabon.
The MinFin-Congo account was funded by a share of the oil taxes
(set at 17.5% of the selling price of exported crude oil) that
was paid by Elf-Congo to the Congolese state. The funds were deposited
in the FIBA account for which the Congolese finance minister,
Nguila Moungounga, had signing authority. In order to pay the
weapons invoices, Moungounga would fax the invoices to the director
of FIBA bank, Pierre Houdray. Houdray could not be reached for
But the payments for the weapons were
never made. Lissouba was desperate for cash; he asked Elf for
a new loan that would be financed with future oil supplies. Lissouba
wanted the money to be advanced to him as early as August. Sigolet
wrote the draft of the loan agreement, which mentioned 10,000
barrels of crude oil per day as collateral. The contract was known
as Darrow, the name of the offshore company created specifically
for the deal.
Darrow never came into effect. After months
of indecisive conflict, in which the capital was divided into
fiefs under the rule of various brutal youth militias, and up
to 800,000 people fled their homes, the Angolan armed forces intervened
and helped install Nguesso as the unchallenged leader of Congo-Brazzaville.
The Angolan initiative was motivated by two factors. Under Lissouba,
Congo-Brazzaville had become a launching pad for the rebel movement
in the neighboring Cabinda enclave which Angola claims as its
own territory. Just as troubling to the Angolan government, the
Angolan rebel UNITA movement of Jonas Savimbi was using Congo-Brazzaville
to smuggle out the diamonds it used to finance its war machine.
The Angolan intervention proved decisive
and brought the conflict to an end. Nguesso became leader of the
country through the force of arms for a second time on October
15, 1997 the same day that Lissouba fled the country.
But Monsieur had not been paid for his
weapons and protested to the incoming government. The new president
was in no hurry to honor debts accumulated up by his predecessor.
Nor was he eager to pay for war materiel that had been used against
the forces who had swept him to power.
In 1998, Nguesso's government and executives
from Elf proposed terms of a settlement. That year, Pierre-Yves
Gilleron, a former adviser to Lissouba and a member of the French
DST, contacted Jack Sigolet in order to resolve the legal dispute
between Monsieur and Congo-Brazzaville. Sigolet, who had retired
from Elf, was back in the Congo, as financial advisor to the new
president. The new Congolese minister for Internal Affairs, Pierre
Oba, was working with Gilleron.
On Dec. 9, 1998, in the Noga Hilton Hotel
in Geneva, a meeting took place between Sigolet, Gilleron and
Monsieur. There was little room for negotiation: Oba was prepared
to acknowledge a debt of $15 million, but only willing to pay
$5 million to settle the dispute.
The $5 million would be paid before June
30, 1999, according to the terms of the settlement. A day after
the meeting, Monsieur drew up a hand-written summary of the discussions
in order to formalize the oral agreement: "The staff of Jack
Sigolet commits itself to employ its best efforts in order to
assist the suppliers in recovering all or most of the unpaid sums,
using their relations and financial expertise in order to obtain
new markets: within Congo-Brazzaville; Angola (...). Last, Jack
Sigolet guarantees the payment, both its amount and timing."
On Dec. 11, 1998, Sigolet wrote to Monsieur:
"If I can't 'guarantee the payment' because this is absolutely
not within my reach or competence, I once again guarantee my availability
in order to promote and legitimize the financial schemes that
have been proposed to you."
Sigolet was unable to follow through on
the agreement arranged in Geneva. The $5 million due Monsieur
was not paid on time. By the end of June 1999, only $3 million
had been paid. Another $1 million was paid in the first half of
The situation grew tense because at the
same time Monsieur and his associates had come under the scrutiny
of French investigators. On May 20, 1999, the French government
placed Monsieur and three of his associates under judicial control
meaning they could not leave the country and had to report
regularly to the police for "trade of war materials,
weapons and ammunitions without the license of Defense Ministry."
Two of Monsieur's associates claimed they were working with the
approval of the DST but this defense failed to get them
off the hook.
In mid-2000, Monsieur once again met with
Sigolet to insist on payment of the outstanding amount, Sigolet
told ICIJ. But he also wanted to make sure that both of them would
tell the same story to the French judge in charge of Monsieur's
Little came from the meeting. Monsieur
wrote a threatening letter, warning that, in the event of non-payment,
he would destroy the reputations of Sigolet and Tarallo, who had
already been named in connection with the burgeoning Elf scandal
in France Tarallo was indicted, though later acquitted in
the high profile fraud case of Dumas. Monsieur also threatened
to damage the entire reputation of Elf: "For the time being,
the last payment is lacking," he wrote. "This last payment
would permit [me] to bury definitively one file everybody would
like to forget as soon as possible. Especially since it now seems
to interest some French authorities. By matter of circumstances,
I have at my disposal an important amount of documents related
to you, and among others: orders of weapons and ammunitions on
behalf of Lissouba government, some signed J.S., other initialed
J.S., (...) the detail of every flight on behalf of African governments
using Elf planes() freighting of a helicopter, paid by Elf, for
the election campaign in Gabon"
The letter goes on, making charge after
charge. Sigolet had always maintained that Tarallo was innocent
of those accusations, and Tarallo himself denied any involvement
in weapons sales at any time. Sigolet would not confirm or deny
the substance of Monsieur's letter in any detail, noting only
that it was not totally accurate but appeared to be authentic.
Incarcerated in Iran
Monsieur was scheduled to testify in a
French court at the end of 2000, but he disappeared in November.
He turned up in Iran, where he faced another legal proceeding.
On Nov.19, 2000, Branch Three of the Tehran Revolutionary Court
arrested Monsieur and charged him with "spying and collecting
classified information." Tehran had a long record of relations
with Monsieur. Business letters between Modelex, the state-owned
arms manufacturing company, and Monsieur show how closely the
arms trafficker had worked with Iranian officials. In the letters,
Modelex, Monsieur, Tarallo and Sigolet appear to be working together
as a unit.
There's no question that Tehran was extremely
well informed about the man they had arrested. Monsieur had worked
closely with the Iranian regime to aid its arms exporting and
its pursuit of raw materials, including some nuclear materials.
Fourteen months prior to his arrest in Tehran, Monsieur was still
negotiating with the Democratic Republic of Congo a "barter"
of Iranian weapons for "copper, cobalt, uranium 294, 298,
380, thorium, titanium"
Some of the circumstances of Monsieur's
captivity led French authorities to believe, at least at first,
that the arms trafficker had eluded French justice by having the
Iranians stage a mock arrest and detention. For example, Monsieur
was unable to receive visitors in his Iranian jail, uncommon even
in Iran. He also had given orders related to the maintenance of
his property in France before traveling to and being arrested
in Iran, suggesting he knew he might be gone for some time.
But from the beginning of 2001, it became
clear that Monsieur was genuinely detained against his will. In
early 2001, a single handwritten fax issued by the Iranian lawyer
representing Monsieur reached his Parisian attorneys. According
to the fax, Tehran knew that the Iranian weapon operations of
the Belgian trafficker could have resulted in the payment of illicit
commissions to Iranians, deposited into their Dubai bank accounts
in amounts ranging from $17,000 to $25,000. In the same fax, Monsieur
indirectly let his European lawyers know where they could find
documents that could help prove he worked with knowledge and approval
of the Iranian government.
In December 2001, Monsieur was finally
sentenced behind closed doors in Tehran and declared "dischargeable
on bail." During his detention, the last $1 million installment
for the weapons delivered to Lissouba had been paid. But the payments
appear to raise more questions about Monsieur's dealings in Iranian
arms and African wars. When Monsieur told his lawyers "in
which place, unknown until then to the French investigators"
they could find documents he hoped would clear him of the charges
in Iran, the Belgian trafficker unwittingly gave French investigators
a new lead in their case.
French police later discovered documents
in Tarascon in the south of France revealing the existence of
an offshore company named Telogis ("Sigolet" spelled
backwards) used for the payment of invoices related to planes.
Sigolet denies any connection to Telogis, claiming that it is
the creation of one of Monsieur's closest associates. However,
the documents exposed the financial web behind the Monsieur weapons:
when the FIBA bank paid Monsieur and his partners, most of the
money went to an anonymous beneficiary codenamed "CH,"
suggesting another player beyond Monsieur.
The French investigation continues, as
does a Belgian inquiry. And Monsieur appears to be within the
reach of both countries. On May 11, 2002, Monsieur was arrested
in Istanbul. Belgium, which has indicted him on charges of arms
trafficking, is seeking his extradition.
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