Expatica news

Aid group refuses to repay ransom

15 June 2004

AMSTERDAM — The Netherlands warned on Tuesday it will sue aid group Artsen zonder Grenzen (AzG) after it refused to reimburse the Dutch government for the ransom it paid to free kidnapped Dutchman Arjan Erkel.

A Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said after the refusal by AzG to repay the ransom, the Dutch government saw no alternative but to take the matter to court, French news agency AFP reported.

Erkel was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Russian republic of Dagestan in August 2002 and was not released until almost 20 months later on 11 April 2004 after the Dutch government paid a ransom, reportedly to the tune of EUR 1 million.
But AzG — known in English as Doctors Without Borders and internationally as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) — has refused to pay the ransom, claiming it never authorised the Dutch government to negotiate on its behalf.
“The organisation cannot be held responsible for an accord it was not involved in and which it did not negotiate,” it said.

AzG claims the Dutch government broke off all contact with the organisation just two weeks before Erkel’s release. It heard about Erkel’s possible release several days before he was freed.

The aid organisation holds the Dutch and Russian governments accountable for the failures in the kidnapping case, delaying Erkel’s release. It has demanded the repayment of EUR 230,000 of the EUR 250,000 it deposited with the Dutch embassy in Moscow.

The AzG international bureau chairman, R. Gillies, said the issue had now become a matter of principle and that the aid group could also have taken the easy option and secretly laid the ransom money on the table. Gillies said it is an issue of AzG’s independence and the responsibility of the Dutch government.

Meanwhile, the man at the centre of the storm, Erkel — who was head of mission in Dagestan when he was kidnapped — said on Radio 1 on Tuesday that it was “unpleasant” his employer was refusing to pay the ransom. He also said it was the responsibility of AzG to pay the ransom.

He spoke critically of the fact the dispute was being publicly fought in the media and said he no longer wished to work for AzG.

Meanwhile, AzG now fears that it will lose financial support from donors due to the controversy. Gillies said the organisation was already losing backing in addition to the possible loss of more than EUR 1 million.

The exact ransom has never been officially confirmed, but humanitarian sources have confirmed a report in French newspaper Le Monde that EUR 1 million was paid to secure Erkel’s release.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news