(Paris) Former French Defense Minister François Léotard died at the age of 81, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday, hailing “a free spirit, a man of books and commitment”.

François Léotard was minister in right-wing governments, during two “cohabitations” with the left-wing president François Mitterrand: in Culture (1986-1988) in the government of Jacques Chirac, then in Defense (1993-1995) in that of Édouard Balladur, which placed him in the front line in Operation Turquoise, a highly criticized intervention by French troops in Rwanda, under UN mandate, during the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994.

He was also definitively sentenced in March 2021 to a two-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 euros in one of the aspects of the so-called Karachi case.

This complex legal case involved the establishment of illegal kickbacks on arms contracts with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, intended to partially finance the presidential campaign of Mr. Balladur in 1995.

Precocious and suspicious, sporty and stressed, François Léotard, in whom many saw at one time a potential president, had left politics in the 2000s.

Stricken with “weariness”, he will then explain that he “no longer supported” the political world, its “prostitutional” aspect, made of “flattery” and “lies”.

Electoral failures and legal troubles – a first sentence in 2004 to ten months in prison suspended for money laundering and illicit financing of a party – had also weakened him.

This ardent Catholic was also very affected by the death in 2001 of his brother, actor and singer Philippe Léotard.

“François Léotard served the State and carried a great idea of ​​culture […]. His native Var, the France he defended, the Republic he loved are experiencing a great loss today, ”said Mr. Macron on Twitter.

“A man of conviction and commitment, the armies remember him as a man deeply attached to the sovereignty and independence of France,” said Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu.

The president of the South region, Renaud Muselier, for his part paid tribute to “a man of states and territories” who was “four times deputy of Var and mayor of Fréjus for 20 years”.

He helped transform this city on the Côte d’Azur, of which his father André Léotard was also mayor.