Business and hostages: The Safa dossier
by Hichem Karoui
They are called the brothers Safa.
During almost eighteen months, in the period between
1987 and 1988, their name remained well bound in the shade to Mr.
Jean-Charles Marchiani, alias Alexandre Stefani . Iskandar and Akram
Safa are said though to have played a key-role in the liberation of
the French hostages, held by an extremist Islamic faction in Lebanon
during the civil war. Was it Islamic Jihad, or Hizbullah proper?
Considering the circumstances then prevailing to the hijacking and
to the release, the exact name of the group is of little consequence . For very
quickly, it became clear that this affair was to be negotiated
between Paris and Teheran. Beirut – and beyond it Lebanon- has only
been the struggle field wherein the two capitals played of influence
and confronted each other.
About fourteen years after these events, it sounds
as if nothing had been completely settled. France is gripped by a
new political scandal, involving allegations of kickbacks from
ransom ostensibly paid to free the five hostages: Marcel Fontaine
and Marcel Carton, kidnapped on March 22, 1985; Jean-Paul Kauffmann,
kidnapped on Mai 22, 1985 – (They were released on May 4, 1988);
Jean-Louis Normandin and Roger Auque, kidnapped respectively on
March 8, 1986 and January 13, 1987 –(They were released on November
27, 1987). 
A rash of recent press reports once again implicate
President Jacques Chirac, who has been dogged by allegations of
political impropriety for months. Chirac- Prime Minister at the
time- and his former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua have
consistently denied ransom was ever paid for the hostages. But
questions have lingered for years about almost $3 million in
government funds allegedly earmarked for the operation. Now, French
investigators have launched a new inquiry into the affair, at the
center of which we find two Lebanese businessmen: The Safa brothers.
Who are the Safa brothers?
Born in Beirut on April 3, 1955, into a wealthy
Christian-Maronite family originating from Ghadir, in the Northern
Lebanon, Iskandar – the elder- is so far the most concerned by this
affair. His father used to be employed as a civil servant of some
importance in the hierarchy of the French administration, during its
mandate over the country.
Educated in France, and trained in civil engineering
at INSEAD 
of Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne) from which he graduated, Iskandar
has made fortune, among other businesses, it is said, in meddling
and speculating on the profits of the state-to-state market, thanks
to the holding company – TriaCorp- he had developed with his brother
Akram, of three years younger than him.
The family, it is said also, has grown wealthier out
of building roads in Saudi Arabia kingdom 
. If Akram has somewhat withdrawn from the business, living today
between Beirut and Monaco, his elder brother is presently the head
of a company of some reputation: the CMN (Construction Mécanique de
Normandie), based in Cherbourg and notably specialized in radars and
patrol ship’s building. Concerned with civil and military interests,
he has worked with companies as different as Thomson and Sofremi.
Iskandar is sometimes pictured as a " discreet
play-boy gifted with a redoubtable intelligence". Married and
father of a child, he was said to be in Qatar, when news about the
judiciary inquiry leaked to the press. His recent sojourn in the
Gulf has for declared goal the negotiation of a contract implying to
sell the Qataris a number of French patrol ships.
A note from the D.S.T.
According to Le Monde, on January 19, 2001, Mr.
Jean-Jacques Martini – actually one of the five deputy-directors of
the French "Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire"(D.S.T.)-
issued a note headlined " relations between the French businessman
Iskandar Safa and the member of the European parliament Jean-Charles
Marchiani" addressing it to the head of the Parisian Judiciary
police . The text
published by the French newspaper mentions that money transfers were
being effectuated in checks and cash, from accounts belonging to Mr.
Safa. The apparent beneficiaries were people close to the
ex-minister C. Pasqua and his trustful friend J.C. Marchiani. What
were these payments made for? What was the origin of the money? By
which coincidence the three men who, some years ago collaborated
closely for the liberation of the hostages, are again gathered over
that mysterious money circulation? The Judiciary police transmitted
the document it had received to Paris prosecutor, Mr. Jean-Pierre
Dintilhac, on January 22, along with the introductory letter of Mr.
Martini and the 11 banking statements that the D.S.T. had produced.
Habitually, the Judiciary police should conduce its
own inquiry prior to sending the file to the prosecutor. But the
general context still impregnated with the remains of the Falcone
affair  , as well as
the quality of Mr. Marchiani – he is a member of the European
Parliament-, convinced the J.P. to forward the dossier to justice
On January 23, the prosecutor started a preliminary
inquiry about funds’ movements mentioned by the DST. Five months
later, on June 25, he launches a judiciary investigation against X , for "aggravated
money laundering", which he confided to Judge Isabelle
Prévost-Desprez. In October and December, the men Mr. Safa used to
distributing money (one of them was actually his chauffeur) are put
under investigation. They were forbidden from contacting Mr. Safa,
who will be summoned on December 17 to the judge’s office, along
with Mr. Marchiani and his wife Christiane, Mr. Charles Pasqua  – presently
running for President - and his aide Mrs. Marie-Danièle Faure.
On December 12, the public prosecutor’s department
submitted to Mrs. Prévost-Desprez an additional request extending
the prosecution to
"Aggravated influence traffic" purporting the
conditions wherein Mr. Iskandar Safa has obtained in 1999 the French
nationality. And since the word "laundering" suggests that the
concerned funds are possibly the fruit of an infraction, the link
was to be underlined between eventual ransom embezzlement and the
remitted payments in cash .
How the money was funneled
Between 1993 and 1995, a peculiar traffic was going
on in the French Interior Ministry. A man, of Middle-East origin,
used to bring often two envelopes full of money to the Secretary of
Mr. Pasqua as well as to his adviser Mr. Marchiani. It was Mr.
Mohamed Al Sayes, the chauffeur of Iskandar Safa, who thus confessed
to the investigators his visits to the Place Beauvau
. He used to pick up these sums in cash at the Champs-Elysées’s
branch of the CCF (i.e. Crédit Commercial de France). The money was
transferred from a particular account of I. Safa in the CCF of
Geneva. Some of these withdrawals amounted to 400 000 francs. Once
he got the money, the chauffeur gave it to an accomplice – probably
Isam Abbas- whose task was to slip it into the envelopes. Thus, it
is said that between 1995 and 2000, no less than 30 million francs
had to be withdrawn this way and to go to varied addressees, Safa
According to other estimations close to the
financial brigade , in the period
between December 1995 and January 2001, Al Sayes and Abbas – both
employed by Safa and arrested in October and December 2001- withdrew
13,9 million francs in cash from the aforementioned accounts. Other
sums have been withdrawn in checks from another account of Safa in
the Crédit Lyonnais. The DST charges that since more than ten years,
Mr. Marchiani was receiving from Mr. Safa, two or three weekly
payments, each one amounting to about 300 000 francs .
For the DST, the money from the Swiss account is
part of the ransom the French state paid for the hostages in
Lebanon, but was retained by the negotiators. It has been noticed
also that Mrs. Marie-Danièle Faure, Marchiani’s secretary at the
association France-Orient , used to receive the
envelopes from the chauffeur’s hands 
. Some of the checks destined to Mr. Marchiani were withdrawn from a
Credit Lyonnais’ account. But in December 2000, Mr. Iskandar Safa
hastened to close this account, in the wake of the Falcone affair
that had apparently struck both men with panic 
What seems the most amazing in this affair concerns
the coincidence that gathers almost the same protagonists and the
same networks close to Mr. Charles Pasqua. Otherwise, nearly the
same questions that puzzled the investigators and the observers
during the Falcone affair are to be found here as well. Nearly, but
not all- that has to be underlined.
Like in the investigation about the arms deals with
Angola, the former prefect J.C. Marchiani, his wife, and Mr. Pasqua
happen to be directly threatened by this new affair. No wonder,
beyond the long friendship between the two men, a number of
associations usually put into orbit by Pasqua’s associates and
partners in the RPF (i.e. Rassemblement pour la France), have been
at varied times the object of judiciary investigations. The idea
that some bridges link them to each other may sound plausible to the
prosecution, so that it will not be astounding if the judge is
tempted to transfer some pieces from a file to another, in order to
fill the gaps in his inquiry or to find some explanation to
Thus, judge Prévost-Desprez may be much interested
in inquiring about some associations she had already encountered
when she was investigating about arms smuggling. The association
France-Orient, where according to the DST, Mr. Marchiani or his
secretary Marie-Danièle Faure, used to receive the money envelopes,
is close to another called AFAO (i.e. France Afrique Orient). Mr.
Pasqua was the latter’s deputy-president. And when it has been
dissolved at the end of 2000, the greatest part of its funds went to
France-Orient. Now, one must keep in mind that the inquiry about
arms smuggling with Angola made evidence of a sum of 1.5 million
francs that had been remitted to the AFAO in 1996. And it was the
weapons company Brenco, headed by Pierre Falcone, which funneled the
money. Moreover, the same association used to share its offices with
"Demain la France"- a movement that Mr. Pasqua has created in an
attempt to unify the opponents to Amsterdam treaty.
Here, two remarks are noteworthy: first, the
diplomatic adviser of Mr. Pasqua, Bernard Guillet, also member of
the administration board in both associations, has been put under
judiciary investigation in the current affair related to Safa. And
second, it seems that some of the offices occupied by Mr. Pasqua and
Marchiani political partners and collaborators, boulevard de la
Tour-Maubourg in Paris, belong actually to Iskandar Safa.
The Lebanese adventure
In the book entitled " la décennie Mitterand",
Iskandar Safa confessed to Pierre Favier and Michel-Martin Rolland:
"We have done a team work. I was well acquainted with Pasqua and
Chirac (the prime minister) as well as with their entourage. I have
just put at their service my numerous contacts in Lebanon, in Syria
and most of all in Iran" . According to the
same source, Iskandar was then using a little private plane 
for shuttling between Paris and some Middle-East capitals. The
two authors describe these missions this way: " Iskandar Safa does
80% of Jean-Charles Marchiani’s work, who achieves 80% of Charles
Pasqua’s job, who accomplishes 80% of Jacques Chirac’s."
Marchiani himself acknowledges to the AFP that he
has " a lot of esteem for Iskandar Safa", and he adds: " I have
known him since about twenty years, when I was managing the Meridien
chain of hotels". Apparently, their relationship never faltered
since then, for when in 1986 Mr. Pasqua appointed the former SDECE-agent
as head of the operations aiming at liberating the French hostages
in Lebanon, it was towards Safa that the latter turned.
" I accepted out of patriotism, as a Lebanese, and
because it was a human problem also. I was horrified that some
French citizens could thus be hijacked. Anyway, it was not for
money", said Iskandar Safa in an interview with Le Monde 
. However, many varied versions about what happened then make
it hard to reach a conclusive truth. One witness confessed to a
French newspaper that Iskandar Safa was " indubitably the key-man,
who had his ways into all the communities, Israel and the Mossad
. According to this witness who required anonymity, the means
of the Marchiani team were then unlimited and the backing with
Matignon’s special funds 
was granted. " We were a dozen of men, and everything was
being planned from Triacorp, Safa’s company. For reasons of
discretion and flexibility, it was Triacorp that funded the whole
logistic. It will thus serve as a screen-company for the French
government. Safa himself has funneled several dozens of million
francs." The same witness expressed his doubts over the fact that
France would ever have paid its Eurodif debt to Iran 
, without the apparition of the hostages’ affair. He suggested
that it was actually the first condition for their release. " What
is sure", he says, " is that towards the end of 1986, a first
portion amounting to $300 million was being released".
Was there any ransom?
On January 4, the former office chief of Mr. Chirac
at Matignon (1986-1988), Maurice Ulrich, presently an Elysée adviser , declares that the
liberation of the hostages" has never been subjected to any ransom
paid by the French state". He labels "nonsense" the declaration of
Christian Prouteau, ex-chief of the Elysée anti-terrorist cell , to Le Parisien about
Mitterand being aware of a ransom paid for the hostages . Prouteau emphasized
that he informed the former President of the affair himself, adding
that he was not shocked that such a thing might happen.
Moreover, in 1987 the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa
has mentioned that $3 million were being paid to the hijackers.
Several French papers have echoed the same information, albeit the
government has always denied it.
For Mr. Marchiani, what some people call "ransom"
was nothing but the settlement of the Eurodif affair. He confirmed
that at the end of April 1988, he accompanied Mr. Jean-Claude
Trichet, then treasury director, to Geneva. They met the envoys of
the Iranian Finance Ministry with whom they had to negotiate the
settlement of the debt. "These commitments that actually allowed the
liberation of the hostages, have been honored by two successive
governments", says Mr. Marchiani .
Let’s keep in mind that prior to the Islamic
revolution of 1979, Iran has lent $ 1 billion to France, in order to
be equipped with a nuclear program. But the new regime put an end to
that cooperation, and the French companies involved with Eurodif
refused to pay back the debt. According to Christian Prouteau, it
was the government Chirac, during the first cohabitation that
accepted to pay back the Iranians.
Some questions remain however unanswered:
Was it a coincidence that the first payments made by
Safa to Mr. Pasqua’s collaborators started in 1989, the year
following the liberation of the hostages?
Why should Safa ever make such payments? Why were
they made to the same persons? What would he get in return?
What was the role of the Iranian Manucher
Ghorbanifar, the ex-informer of the " Direction Générale de la
Sécurité Extérieure"(DGSE) and the DST in this affair? Some people
say that he was actually the source of the DST’s note. It is also
believed that he accompanied Marchiani during his meetings with the
Iranian deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs. What about his
complaining that he has not been fairly paid for his efforts in the
hostages’ crisis? Had he really threatened to have his revenge
against Mr. Jacques Chirac, as suggests Le Canard Enchainé 
in one of its recent issues? Has he gone to the extent of
arranging his "confession" to the DST so that it suits his desire
for revenge? 
 Born in Bastia, - August 6,
1943- Jean-Charles Marchiani was hired by the French Secret Service
at the age of 19. Friend and close collaborator of Mr. Charles
Pasqua, the important figure of the Gaullist movement, he was hoping
to be appointed as Director of the French Counter-espionage (DGSE),
but Pasqua did not obtain the Defense Ministry during the first
cohabitation between the Socialist President François Mitterand and
a rightist government (1986-1988). Instead of that, as Pasqua became
Interior minister, he appointed Marchiani as his main adviser
responsible for the "exterior security" in relation with terrorist
questions. It is at that post that Marchiani, helped by his friend
Safa, led the negotiations for the liberation of the hostages, under
the pseudonym of Alexandre Stefani. Mr. Marchiani has occupied also
important posts, such as prefect. He is currently a member of the
 It is generally admitted that the group was close to
 Dates provided by Le Monde: January 3, 2002. Une
collaboratrice de M. Pasqua et M. Marchiani mise en examen dans une
affaire de blanchiment.
 INSEAD: a private school for preparing a MBA in: applied
statistics, business policy, corporate financial management,
economic analysis, financial accounting, industrial policy and
international competitiveness, etc…
 Le Figaro : Les étonnantes relations des frères Safa.
January 3, 2002. It seems that in dealing with the Saudis that the
family first made a name. The brothers likely inherited some of that
business, although it is not clear whether they continued it or not.
 It is in an interview with Le
Monde (January 7) that Iskandar Safa acknowledged he had worked for
the Sofremi, an export company of the Interior Ministry, which has
been at the heart of Judge Philippe Courroye’s investigation about
the Angola-gate: a huge weapons smuggling that was going on between
Paris and Luanda. Pasqua and Marchiani have been then put under
Sofremi: Société française
d’exportation de matériel et de systèmes du ministère de
Thomson: Great Company specialized
in electronics, high-tech, and defense systems.
Iskandar Safa was probably working
for these important companies as a meddler. His Middle East
connections were one of his greatest assets. He is said to have
relations with people as different as Israelis and Iranians among
others. As the Middle East is an important market for the
electronics, the security and defense systems, produced by these
companies, it is not hard to imagine how he made his way up to the
top. His acquaintance with Marchiani could have been enhanced by
their mutual concern with these matters. That’s how he probably
introduced him to the high spheres of French politics.
 Le Figaro. Jan.3. Op. Cit.
 Le Monde. January 7, 2002. Ce
que révèle l’enquête financière.
 The Falcone affair (or the
Angola-gate) has shaken the French political scene when it has been
unearthed (2000-2001) by the media. It involved Pierre-Joseph
Falcone, chairman of Brenco (a company specialized in weapons’
sales), along with important people like Jean-Christophe Mitterand
(son of the former President), the writer Paul-Loup Sulitzer, the
Israeli millionaire Arcadi Gaydamac, the ex-director of Sofremi
Bernard Poussier, and J.C.Marchiani and C.Pasqua. It was about
illegitimate sales of weapons to Angola.
 Against x: a formula in the
judiciary system indicating that the person who committed the
offence or the crime is still not identified.
Since he is a candidate for the top post in
the French Republic, Mr. Pasqua was utterly embarrassed by this
affair. While trying to wash his hands from it, he reiterated that
there was no ransom for the hostages, and that he has nothing to
worry about concerning the transparence of his accounts, he charged
Mr. Lionel Jospin’s Cabinet of fomenting a plot against him, to
reduce his chances of success in the presidential elections of 2002.
Mr. Jospin is also running for President.
Le Monde. Jan.7. Op. Cit.
L’express. January 10,2002. Le porteur de
valises place Beauvau.
Ibid. The most important question that seems
inevitable to the investigators here is why Mr. Safa should ever
have to pay Mr. Pasqua and Mr. Marchiani, if he really did? What is
the agreement between them? Why such a generosity? Now, one must
notice that the justice has not answered these questions, and we
cannot precede it.
The Financial Brigade is a very important
branch of the French police specialized in investigations about high
Le Nouvel Observateur. January 8,2002.
An association for economic cooperation and
cultural exchanges – as many of the kind exist – once presided by
Le Nouvel Observateur. January 7,2002. Les
riches comptes de M. Marchiani.
Ibid. A remark is necessary however: the role
of Safa in the Falcone affair has not been proved. Either he had
nothing to do with it, or he managed cleverly to protect himself.
Anyway, since Marchiani and Pasqua were involved, he might have felt
targeted as well.
La Décennie Mitterand. Quoted by Guillaume
Bonnet. AFP. February 7, 2001.
Whether it was a plane the French government
allowed him to use for this mission, or his own is not clear.
SDECE: service de documentation extérieure et
de contre-espionnage. It is the former name of the French
intelligence (probably the twin of the CIA or MI6), which has been
changed under Mitterand into: Direction Générale de la Sécurité
Extérieure (: DGSE).
Le Monde. Jan. 7,2002.
Le Parisien. Quoted in: Le Monde, Jan.9, 2002.
La rançon pour les otages du Liban fait question.
Hotel Matignon is the Prime Minister’s place.
And the secret funds are specially allowed by the National Budget
makers to the entire discretion of the Prime Minister. The way they
are spent is protected by the top-secret.
In 1974 the former Shah of Iran, Mohamed Ridha,
ordered two central nuclear to Framatome-Alsthom and
Spie-Batignolles. He lent $ 1 billion to the French Commissariat à
l’énergie atomique (C.E.A.) for the construction by the Consortium
Eurodif of the Tricastin uranium enrichment plant, seeking to
benefit from it. But in 1979, the government that took over in
Tehran after the revolution canceled the project and asked for the
reimbursement of the loan.
Eurodif : Société européenne
d’enrichissement de l’uranium. Among its shareholders, we find:
France’s COGEMA with 51,55 %.
Italia’s Agip nucleare, Enea with
Belgium’s Soben with 11%.
Spain’s Enusa with 11%.
Le Parisien. Op. Cit.
The Elysée is the Presidential palace.
It was the ex-President Mitterand who charged
Christian Prouteau of updating him directly with whatever occur
concerning terrorist questions, through a cell in the Elysée palace
specialized in this matter.
Le Parisien. Jan.8, quoted in: Le Monde, Jan.
8, 2002. Marchiani presse le chef de l’Etat de demander des
explications au government.
Le Canard Enchaîné. Quoted in : Le Nouvel
Observateur. Jan.8, 2002. Mitterand savait. Op. Cit.
It is clear that beyond the person of Mr.
Pasqua, it is Mr. Chirac, at the time Prime-Minister, who would
assume responsibility for any ransom payment, if it has ever been
="text-align: left" align="left">
Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.