France accused of paying Mali rebels €25m ransom for release of four hostages

Four mining engineers reportedly freed after sum handed over by French agents

Paris

Paris has been accused of paying around €25m (£21.4m) for four hostages released by Islamist rebels in northern Mali, despite a personal pledge by President François Hollande to refuse all ransom deals.

After more than three years in captivity in remote mountains on the Mali-Algerian frontier, the four French mining engineers returned to Paris to an emotional greeting from their families and President Hollande.

The men, who appeared strained  but well, refused to speak to the  waiting press.

The French government spokesman and the foreign and defence ministers denied that any ransom had been paid, despite detailed reports by the newspaper, Le Monde, and the news agency, Agence France-Press, both quoting sources in  the French  intelligence services and the Niger government.   

Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol  and Marc Féret were seized with three other French citizens from a uranium mining camp in Niger in September 2010.

According to the official version  of events, they were freed on  Tuesday following negotiations involving the president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

France has often been reported to have paid ransoms in the past, including a reported €13m which was handed over by former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government for the three other hostages seized in Niger in 2010, including Mr Larribe’s  wife, Françoise.

Earlier this year, during France’s successful military campaign against extremist Islamist groups in Mali, President Hollande pledged that his government would refuse all payments which helped to sustain  such rebellions.

The government’s official spokeswoman, Najat Vallaud- Belkacem, insisted that this policy remained unchanged. 

“Our attitude is steadfast on this subject,” she said. 

Earlier, the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said: “All I can tell you is that France does not pay ransoms. That is clear and open.”

Le Monde’s website carried a very different account, based on sources within the French external intelligence service, the DGSE.

It described months of negotiations involving the French and Niger governments, culminating in an eight-day trek by 18 French agents and Tuareg helpers into the remote mountains of northern Mali at the end of last week.

Le Monde said that €20m-€25m had been handed to this “convoy” from the secret funds of the DGSE.

It had been arranged, through a senior Niger official, that the four hostages would be brought together from their separate places of captivity and left alone with food and water in  the desert.

Once the money had been handed to an intermediary, the rebels provided the French agents with a GPS address for the place where the hostages were waiting.

A similar account was given by Agence France Presse. Sources within the Niger government told the news agency that up to €25m had been paid for the four men.

The release of the hostages is a welcome piece of positive news for President Hollande following weeks of crises, gaffes, disappointing economic results and a succession of disastrous opinion polls.

It remains to be seen whether his “success” will be tarnished by the ransom accusations.

The main centre-right opposition – perhaps mindful of ransoms allegedly paid by Presidents Sarkozy and Chirac in the past – appeared ready to accept the government’s word.

Françoise Larribe, freed in 2011, spoke yesterday of a “tsunami of joy” at being reunited with her husband.

“It as if we had resumed a conversation that we broke off a few days ago,” she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Smart phones, dumb reading: Rebecca and Harry from ‘Teens’
tv
News
people
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Motor Mechanic / Technician / MOT Tester - Oundle

£11 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Small friendly Ford dealership based i...

Recruitment Genius: Development Worker

£18300 - £20300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - New Business - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The flat management structure a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss