An ex-adviser to the French presidency was indicted on corruption charges linked to a trade agreement between Paris and Astana during Nicolas Sarkozy's term, a source close to the probe told AFP Thursday.
Ex-prefect Jean-Francois Etienne des Rosaies, 73, is the fourth figure accused since April 2013 of corruption in a case that has been dubbed "Kazakhgate" in France.
He is suspected of receiving illicit kickbacks from the deal, which was announced during an October 2010 visit by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Paris.
The total value of the contracts, involving the French sale to Astana of 295 trains and 45 helicopters, came to some two billion euros ($2.15 billion at Thursday's exchange rate).
The probe into Rosaies' role began two days before centrist lawmaker and Sarkozy's ex-representative in central Asia Aymeri de Montesquiou, 72, lost his immunity on Wednesday.
The source close to the probe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Rosaies is being investigated for active corruption, misusing his government position, and attempting to whitewash the crime.
He is suspected of illicitly taking commission for the massive deal.
A French lawyer, Catherine Degoul, and two unnamed intermediaries are also being investigated in a case that will impact Belgium as well as Kazakhstan and France.
Investigators are trying to uncover whether officials under Sarkozy secretly pressured Belgian MPs to change a law in their country in 2011, in order to end a court case against businessman Patokh Chodiev, who was known to have close ties to the Kazakh government.
They want to know whether Nazarbayev made his country's massive purchase conditional on Chodiev being let off.
In December, during a visit to Astana by Sarkozy's successor President Francois Hollande, the Kazakh leader branded as "gossip" the claim that he pushed for the charges against Chodiev to be dropped.
In October 2009, Sarkozy visited Kazakhstan, and characterised the energy-rich country as Paris' "privileged" partner.
Anti-graft watchdog Transparency International last year ranked Kazakhstan 126th out of 175 countries in its annual corruption perceptions index. A number one ranking means the least corrupt.
19th March 2015, AFP