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French aid workers on trial for false African adoptions

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-04

Six humanitarian workers from the French organisation Zoe’s Ark went on trial in Paris on Monday, accused of trying to bring 103 children illegally to France for adoption, claiming they were orphans from troubled Darfur.

Six members of a French humanitarian organisation accused of illegally attempting to bring 103 children to France from Chad in 2007 went on trial in Paris on December 3.

The aid workers, from the organisation Arche de Zoé (Zoe’s Ark), claimed the children were orphans from the war-torn region of Darfur in Sudan and that it had organised for them to be placed in the foster care of families in France.
 
But an investigation revealed that many of the children were from Chad and had been living with their real families.
 
The suspects were greeted by a media scrum when they arrived for the start of the trial at the Palace of Justice, where proceedings got under way -- but without the two main suspects.
 
The president of Zoe’s Ark, Eric Breteau, and his companion, Emilie Lelouch, live in South Africa and had told authorities they had no intention of turning up in court. They will be tried in absentia.
 
The accused face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to €750,000 if they are found guilty.
 
Six court hearings are scheduled over the coming weeks, after which the judges will deliver their verdicts.
 
Forced labour
 
The Zoe’s Ark scandal, which shocked France and embarassed then president Nicolas Sarkozy, came to light when staff members were detained in Chad as they prepared to board a plane with the alleged orphans.
 
The children were discovered wearing makeup and fake bandages.
 
Zoe’s Ark had arranged for them to be adopted by French families, who believed they would be fostering orphaned children from Darfur.
 
Two months after being arrested, Chadian authorities convicted the group for attempted kidnapping and sentenced them to eight years of forced labour.
 
But after Chad struck a deal with Paris they were repatriated to France, where they faced a new investigation and subsequent trial.
 
The case is being followed closely by the French families who had expected to foster a child through Zoe’s Ark.
 
“We need to be recognised as victims and not as guilty parties," said Cécile Hardy, who travelled from Nantes to be present at the trail.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-03

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