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French ex-soldier denies role in Madagascar coup plot

A former French army colonel accused of masterminding a coup plot in Madagascar denied all charges against him Wednesday, on the third day of a trial in the nation’s capital.

“I deny the accusations laid against me. I’ve never considered an attack on the president’s life,” Philippe Francois, 54, told the court.

“I’m Catholic, a father of six, and like you, I love my country,” he said.

“It’s an insult to my honour, and to my intelligence, to think that I had something to do with Apollo 21,” he said, using the code name for the coup plot that authorities say was meant to be unleashed on July 21.

Francois and the French-Madagascan Paul Rafanoharana, 58, are accused of masterminding the plot to assassinate President Andry Rajoelina.

They were arrested on July 20 along with their wives, and imprisoned in early August after a long period in police custody.

Authorities say their key piece of evidence is a USB drive containing the budget for the alleged operation.

“I only learned of this file when the police interrogated me,” he said.

“If I’d known about this file, which I didn’t, I would have destroyed the thumb drive. I was shocked to see that this budget was on the drive,” he said, while conceding that the device did actually belong to him.

His hearing lasted several hours, and was followed by his wife Brigitte’s. She said the couple was planning to move to France when they were arrested at the airport.

They are among 20 people accused in the plot. The defendants face charges ranging from criminal association to compromising state security and planning to kill the head of state.