France charges Zoe's Ark charity with fraud

31st May 2009, Comments 0 comments

French charity Zoe's Ark faces trial as an organisation for "fraud" related to the "snatching" of 103 Chadian children in 2007

PARIS - French charity Zoe's Ark faces trial as an organisation for "fraud" related to the "snatching" of 103 Chadian children in 2007.

The group's head Eric Breteau was brought before judges Thursday to have the charges which also include assisting in the illegal immigration of foreign children "with a view to adoption" read out to him.

Breteau and his partner, Emilie Lelouch, have already been charged personally on similar counts following complaints from five former volunteers who claimed to have been duped by the association.

The five were sent to Chad in September 2007 and told they were on a mission to help Darfur orphans, but returned to France shortly before six members of the organisation were arrested on 25 October that year.

Chad's government accused the organisation of kidnapping, while its members argued they were helping orphans from the war-ravaged Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan.

It later emerged the children were not Sudanese and most still had living relatives.

Zoe's Ark's managing director Eric Breteau, his assistant Emilie Lelouch, doctor Philippe van Winkelberg, logistics operators Alain Peligat and Dominique Aubry and nurse Nadia Merimi were all originally sentenced to eight years of hard labour in Chad.

Under a deal with Chad, they were repatriated to France and had their sentences adjusted to jail time there, before finally being pardoned in March 2008 by President Idriss Deby Itno.

However, the Chadian award of EUR 6.3 million (USD nine million) in damages and interest due to the victims' families remains tangled up in legal argument.

Under the charges laid against by the French authorities, Breteau, Lelouch, van Winkelberg and Peligat could face 10 years in jail and a EUR 750,000 fine each.

AFP / Expatica

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