Environemnt Minister Bård Vegar Solhjell is currently in Congo to discuss new Norwegian aid for saving rainforest. At the same time, he takes up negotiations on Tjostolv Moland and Joshua French. Bård Vegar Solhjell said that authorities in Congo also know that this issue complicates cooperation between the two countries.
Norway has allocated 213 million NOK to a variety of measures for the protection of rainforests in Congo since 2009.
When Solhjell met the country’s environment minister on Sunday, he also expressed his desire to bring the two Norwegian prisoners back to Norway, according to Dagbladet.
– I think the Congolese realize that protection of the rainforest and Moland and French case are two different things. But at the same time they know well that this issue complicates cooperation between our two countries, said Solhjell.
About the Case
Since 2009, French and Tjostolv Moland have been imprisoned in Congo, where they have been convicted of killing their driver and espionage. The Norwegian government has long attempted to make an extradition agreement with the Congolese authorities, but there is no imminent solution for the Norwegian prisoners.
The trial and conviction of Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland followed their arrest and charges in May 2009, of the killing of their hired driver, 47-year-old Abedi Kasongo, which is said to have occurred on May 5, 2009, at Bafwasende in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Tshopo district. French was arrested on May 9 in the Epulu game reserve, around 200 kilometres (120 mi) from Kisangani. Moland was arrested two days later in the Ituri Province, a few hundred kilometres farther northeast.
After their arrest, French and Moland were charged with killing Kasongo on the Ituri Road, in the vicinity of the 109-kilometer marker between Kisangani and the Ugandan border. Additional charges against the two included attempted murder of a witness, espionage, armed robbery and the possession of illegal firearms.
Their trial, held on August 14, was allowed to take place before a military court because firearms had been used in the crime. However, according to Mirna Adjami, a local representative of the International Center for Transitional Justice, only Congolese police and army soldiers can be tried before a military tribunal; this raised questions as to the court’s legality.
During the criminal investigation, the Congolese authorities found Norwegian military ID cards, counterfeit United Nations caps, and employee ID badges with both the correct and false names of French and Moland. The employee badges were from a little-known security company named Special Interventions Group (SIG) which is owned by and mostly staffed by Norwegians. The investigators also found SIG-Uganda employee ID badges which bore the identical SIG logo and the false names of “John Hunt” and “Mike Callan” accompanying French and Moland’s respective photographs. During a raid on French and Moland’s apartment, authorities also confiscated at least one rifle and a camera containing images of French and Moland on their recent travels in Africa. In one image, believed to have been taken by French, Moland is seen smiling as he washes what is alleged to be the blood of Abedi Kasongo from the inside of their car. French and Moland have said that Kasongo was murdered by gunmen who attacked them on a road.
Two individuals, Gina Kepo Aila and Kasimu Aradjabo, said they were both present during the killing. Both witnesses told the court that Moland shot Abedi Kasongo, while French threw himself over Gina Kepo Aila, whom he tried to kill. According to both witnesses, several shots were fired, most probably three.
On September 8, 2009, French and Moland were found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. Along with the death sentence for both, the tribunal ordered the Norwegian government to pay compensation to each Congolese citizen, an amount Judge Claude Disimo, head of the military tribunal, said totals more than US$60 million. The prosecution had sought the death penalty for the five charges made against the men. Norwegian authorities have denied that the men were involved in espionage for Norway, and have expressed concern they were not receiving a fair trial. Initially the Congolese claims of compensation had amounted to more than US$500 billion.
A new trial with different judges found them guilty of murder and espionage on June 10, 2010. They were again sentenced to death and the Norwegian State was ordered to pay $65m.
Although it remains on the statute books, the death penalty is currently not applied in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The last known execution occurred in 2003, and today capital punishment is usually commuted to life imprisonment.