French prison awaits returning ex-mercenary

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The Independent Online
BOB DENARD, the most famous French mercenary with exploits in the Congo, Biafra and the Comoros islands to his credit, will return to France next Monday where he risks imprisonment.

His lawyer, Daniel Soulez- Lariviere, said yesterday that Mr Denard, 63, planned to fly to Paris from Johannesburg. Mr Denard and his mercenary group in Biafra are believed to be models for characters in Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War.

Mr Denard was sentenced to five years in jail in absentia by a Paris court for his role in a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Benin in 1977. Another international arrest warrant relates to the murder of President Ahmed Abdallah of the Comoros islands in 1989. Mr Denard's men were responsible for Abdallah's security but he has always denied responsibility for the killing.

In Pretoria, Mr Denard, whose real name is believed to be Gilbert Bourgeaud, said he had asked the French embassy there if he could enter France, where he has not set foot since 1981, without facing arrest. The Foreign Ministry in Paris said it was studying the request but his lawyer said he was almost certain to spend a week in detention while moves were made to obtain his release on bail.

'I am returning of my own free will to settle a judicial problem,' Mr Denard, who is said to have held the rank of colonel when he was a regular member of the French army, said in a statement.

Mr Denard led a successful coup in the Comoros in 1978 and was the strongman behind the government until he was forced out by France and South Africa in 1989. In his statement, he said he had left the islands 'under the joint pressure of the French and South African authorities' adding that 'undertakings were made which were not respected'.

Mr Denard, who comes from a village in the Medoc wine-growing region of Bordeaux, indicated that he hoped to be able to clear his name and retire. However, there have been unconfirmed reports in Paris in recent weeks that his expertise on African affairs has been sought by some French companies and that his return was being negotiated.

Mr Soulez-Lariviere said his client would go before an examining magistrate shortly after his arrival. The magistrate was likely to charge him under the warrants already issued, he said. The lawyer would then initiate procedures to release his client pending a re-trial of the 1991 case and a possible new trial relating to the Comoros.

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