Six French Citizens Found Guilty in Chad

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 27, 2007

PARIS, Dec. 26 -- A court in Chad on Wednesday sentenced six French charity workers to eight years of hard labor each on charges of trying to kidnap 103 African children.

The conviction and sentencing were handed down on the fourth day of the trial of workers from the charity Zoe's Ark, who were accused of fraud and kidnapping for attempting to fly the children to France for adoption in Europe.

The defendants argued that they were trying to find homes for orphans from the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, which borders Chad, and were duped by local intermediaries about the family status of individual children. Investigations showed that most of the youngsters, who ranged in age from 1 to 10 years old, were Chadians who lived with at least one parent or other relative.

The case has attracted international attention at a time when children's organizations worldwide are demanding tougher oversight and regulation of Westerners' adoptions of youngsters from developing countries.

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday night that France will attempt to have the six charity workers transferred to France to serve their sentences, although France no longer permits hard labor.

In addition to the six French defendants, the court sentenced to four years in prison a Chadian and a Sudanese who worked as intermediaries for the charity, according to reports from Chad.

The eight convicted men and women were ordered to pay $9 million in damages to the families of the 103 children involved in the case.

"This is a sentence that comes under the category of a judicial masquerade," C¿line Lorenzon, an attorney for the six French defendants, told France-Info radio. "We expected this. They didn't listen to any argument."

She added, "We head back this evening with the feeling that Chad's justice system didn't do its job and that the Chadian people still have a lot to do to be able to be in a republic and have democratic rights."

The trial in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena revealed details of lax monitoring and shady deals that allowed children who were not war orphans to be handed over to the charity.

The case began in October, after Chadian officials intercepted a convoy carrying the children to an airplane for the flight to Europe.

Chadian officials originally also arrested three French journalists accompanying the charity workers and members of the crew of the plane chartered to fly the children to Europe. A week after the arrests, French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Chad in his presidential jet and picked up the journalists and some of the flight crew, vowing to return and "get the people left in Chad, no matter what they did."

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