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Africa

Zoe's Ark organisation under investigation in France

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Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-05-30

A French court source said on Friday that the organisation Zoe's Ark is undergoing investigation for removing Chadian children from their country for adoption purposes in 2008, falsely passing off the children as Sudanese orphans.

AFP - French charity Zoe's Ark faces trial as an organisation for "fraud" related to the adoption under false pretences of 103 Chadian children in 2007, a court source said Friday.

The group's head Eric Breteau was brought before judges Thursday to have the charges which also include assisting in the illegal immigration of foreign children "with a view to adoption" read out to him.

 

Breteau and his partner, Emilie Lelouch, have already been charged personally on similar counts following complaints from five former volunteers who claimed to have been duped by the association.

 

The five were sent to Chad in September 2007 and told they were on a mission to help Darfur orphans, but returned to France shortly before six members of the organisation were arrested on October 25 that year.

 

Chad's government accused the organisation of kidnapping, while its members argued they were helping orphans from the war-ravaged Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan.

 

It later emerged the children were not Sudanese and most still had living relatives.

 

Zoe's Ark's managing director Eric Breteau, his assistant Emilie Lelouch, doctor Philippe van Winkelberg, logistics operators Alain Peligat and Dominique Aubry and nurse Nadia Merimi were all originally sentenced to eight years of hard labour in Chad.

 

Under a deal with Chad, they were repatriated to France and had their sentences adjusted to jail time there, before finally being pardoned in March 2008 by President Idriss Deby Itno.

 

However, the Chadian award of 6.3 million euros (nine million dollars) in damages and interest due to the victims' families remains tangled up in legal argument.

 

Under the charges laid against by the French authorities, Breteau, Lelouch, van Winkelberg and Peligat could face 10 years in jail and a 750,000 euros fine each.

 

The six suspects complain they have been "lynched" by the media and the authorities. Their French lawyers argue that the French case is "purely political".

 

In a book published in 2008, Breteau said that both the French foreign ministry and the French president's office had known about his mission beforehand and backed it.

Date created : 2009-05-30

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