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.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor