Newspaper Says France Paid $2.3 Million For Hostages
PARIS (AP) _ France paid the kidnappers of two Frenchmen held in Beirut the equivalent of $2.3 million and made political concessions to Iran to win the hostages’ release, the newspaper Liberation reported Friday.
Premier Jacques Chirac’s office denied the report.
Chirac has said only state-to-state negotiations were involved in gaining the June 20 release of Philippe Rochot and Georges Hansen, two members of a four-man French Antenna 2 television crew that was abducted in Beirut March 8. Crewmembers Aurel Cornea and Jean-Louis Normandin still are missing.
However, Friday’s report in the leftist Liberation said the government negotiated with the kidnappers through two Lebanese Shiite businessmen in the Ivory Coast and later through Chirac’s chief of staff, Michel Roussin.
Chirac’s office issued a statement saying Chirac ″denies in the most formal manner all of the allegations about the release of the hostages published by the newspaper Liberation Friday, Dec. 12.″
The statement added that the French government ″reserves the right to use all legal means that it judges necessary against the newspaper Liberation.″
Liberation also carried a statement by Roussin as saying its story was not true. ″All of that is completely wrong,″ the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Shortly after taking office, Chirac made a visit to the Ivory Coast for talks with President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. According to Liberation, he also met with Lebanese businessmen Nagib Zaher and Ibrahim Baroud.
The two businessmen were able to contact the kidnappers, Liberation said, and four days later the premier’s office received brief letters from the four hostages, which proved the contact was good.
For that, the government paid five million Lebanese pounds, or $77,000 at current rates, the newspaper said.
″After this initial payment, the ‘real negotiations’ started,″ Liberation said. It said Roussin made several trips to Beirut and to Damascus under a false passport. It said Roussin met several times with representatives of the kidnappers.
In Beirut, Liberation said, Roussin explained that France would not change its policy in support of Iraq, in the Persian Gulf war, but there could be ″normalization″ with Iran.
Liberation said the government also agreed to support an agreement signed last December in Damascus, which was to have ended the conflict between all warring parties in Lebanon.
The French then made two gestures, expelling Iranian opposition leader Massoud Rajavi from France and inviting Iranian Vice Premier Ali Reza Moayeri to France.
Two weeks later, Rochot and Hansen were released.
According to Liberation, the kidnapper’s ″price″ of 15 million francs, or $2.3 million, was filtered through two arms dealers identified as Nicolas Ignatiev in Paris and another named Al Kassar, in Marbella, Spain, who it said was close to the brother of Syrian President Hafez Assad.
The money was paid into an Arab bank in Switzerland and laundered, the report said.
The Revolutionary Justice Organization claimed responsibility for kidnapping the French television crewmembers.