France to appeal 'lenient' sentences for troops

22nd June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 22 (AFP) - France's state prosecutor will appeal against jail terms handed down on 12 French soldiers convicted of robbing a bank in Ivory Coast on the grounds that the sentences are too lenient, Justice Minister Pascal Clement said on Wednesday.

PARIS, June 22 (AFP) - France's state prosecutor will appeal against jail terms handed down on 12 French soldiers convicted of robbing a bank in Ivory Coast on the grounds that the sentences are too lenient, Justice Minister Pascal Clement said on Wednesday.

Eight troops from France's Operation Licorne peacekeeping force were given a year in jail on Tuesday for stealing some 220 million CFA francs (EUR 335,000) from a branch of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) in Man, 470 kilometres west of Abidjan.

Four others were given shorter jail terms for receiving goods bought with the stolen cash in the once economically strong west African country, split in two between rebels and government troops since a failed September 2002 coup.

Pascal said he had been contacted by Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie who said the jail terms were insufficient and wanted to explore the possibility of a state appeal.

"I entirely understand her reasons and indeed I am going to ask the Paris state prosecutor to lodge an appeal," Clement said on Europe 1 radio.

Asked if he would welcome more severe sentences, he said: "I believe the request of the prosecutor will be in that direction. That is what I will be asking him to do."

Alliot-Marie repeated her belief that the sentences were too lenient.

"Every time soldiers are accused or unjustly attacked, I defend them. When they commit offences they must be punished," she said after the weekly cabinet meeting.

Billeted in the badly damaged bank following civil unrest in the town of Man, the soldiers -- all aged between 20 and 35 -- broke through a wall into the strong room and made four hauls in July and August 2004.

They used the money to buy mobile telephones, digital cameras and camcorders which they sent back to their families in France.

The court heard how suspicions were first aroused by the soldiers' lavish spending. A witness from Ivory Coast told investigators he manufactured statuettes in which bundles of notes could be hidden.

The prosecutor in Tuesday's trial Jacques Baillet said the men had "discredited France's action on the international scene ... For these men the summer of 2004 was a time for betrayal of their mission."

France has 4,000 troops in its former west African colony, where they help keep an uneasy peace between the government and rebel forces. An international force of some 6,000 UN soldiers is also there.

Six other French soldiers are to stand trial later this year on charges of stealing bank notes from a branch of the BCEAO in the town of Bouake.

© AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article