Jean-Baptiste Doumeng, an outspoken Communist who amassed a fortune trading French agriculture products with Eastern Bloc nations, has died at his home in southwestern France, his company reported last week. France's "red billionaire" was 68.
Doumeng joined the French Communist Party as a teen-age farm boy and remained a staunch supporter while building an agribusiness empire, selling massive quantities of subsidized European Economic Community surplus foodstuffs abroad.
An official at Interagra, Doumeng's holding company, said Doumeng had been ill for several months. He said the businessman, who had undergone a series of gall bladder operations, died at his home in Noe near Toulouse.
Doumeng founded Interagra when he was 20 and amassed a fortune that he never considered a compromise of his political beliefs.
When asked how he reconciled his politics with his dealings, Doumeng, who personally knew all the Soviet leaders of the last quarter-century, would often reply with a smile that his deals helped to swell Communist Party coffers.
"Communism will make everyone as rich as me," he once told an interviewer.
While serving for years as Communist mayor of Noe, Doumeng established a stable of thoroughbred horses and was president of the Toulouse soccer team. He also sponsored the career of fashion designer Jacques Esterel after seeing him sketching his creations at a cafe table.
Interagra trades in goods as diverse as tractors and tropical hardwoods, controls at least a dozen other companies and has been involved in most of the big European farm product sales to the East. Among them were shipments of bargain-priced butter that led to a European Economic Community ban on selling subsidized butter to the Eastern Bloc at prices lower than what Europeans pay.
A book published in 1977 on French Communist Party finances claimed that Doumeng helped finance the party out of Interagra funds and in return was given preferential treatment by the Soviet Union.