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
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine