France accused of paying for hostages' freedom

22nd May 2006, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, May 22, 2006 (AFP) - France, Germany and Italy paid some US $45 million (EUR 35 million) to obtain the release of hostages kidnapped in Iraq, despite denying it in public, The Times newspaper reported Monday.

LONDON, May 22, 2006 (AFP) - France, Germany and Italy paid some US $45 million (EUR 35 million) to obtain the release of hostages kidnapped in Iraq, despite denying it in public, The Times newspaper reported Monday.

Britain has not handed out any money to kidnap gangs, the paper added, basing its report on "documents seen by The Times".

France on Monday denied the allegations. "As the French authorities indicated when the hostages were freed, there was no ransom paid," said foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.

The Times said its evidence came from security officials in Baghdad who played a role in the hostage negotiations.

The list of payments has also been seen by Western diplomats, who are angered at the behaviour of the three governments, arguing that it encourages organised crime gangs to grab more foreign captives, the paper said.

"In theory we stand together in not rewarding kidnappers, but in practice it seems some administrations have parted with cash and so it puts other foreign nationals at risk from gangs who are confident that some governments do pay," one senior envoy in the Iraqi capital was quoted as saying.

Several other governments, including Jordan, Romania, Sweden and Turkey, were also said to have paid for their hostages to be freed, along with some US companies with lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

While Britain has never paid to free its citizens, it is understood to have paid intermediaries 'expenses' for their efforts to make contact with the kidnappers, The Times reported.

France, Italy and Germany have all publicly denied paying any ransom money. "But according to the documents, held by security officials in Baghdad who have played a crucial role in hostage negotiations, sums from US $2.5 million to US $10 million per person have been paid over the past 21 months," the paper said.

According to the report, France paid out a combined US $25 million for the release of Georges Malbrunot in December 2004 and Florence Aubenas in June 2005.

Italy handed over a total of US $11 million for the freedom of Simona Pari, Simona Torretta and Giuliana Sgrena in 2004 and 2005, again according to the report, while Germany was said to have given kidnappers US $ 8 million to secure the release of three hostages, including Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke who were freed earlier this month.

The Italian daily Repubblica cited an official report according to which Rome handed over several million dollars in ransom for Iraq hostages.

Germany's national broadcaster, ARD, earlier reported that a 10-million-dollar ransom had been paid out for Braeunlich and Nitzschke, a claim the government in Berlin has consistently denied.

Britain paid out no money to the kidnappers of Britons Kenneth Bigley and Margaret Hassan, both of whom were killed after being seized in late 2004, but the authorities here were criticised for allowing the kidnappers of fellow Briton Norman Kember to flee before launching a rescue operation in March.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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