‘Norway didn’t pay for French’s release’

After eight years in custody under harsh jail conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, convicted Norwegian-British adventurer Joshua French arrived back in his home country of Norway on Wednesday, just as other Norwegians were celebrating Constitution Day on the 17th of May. Norwegian government ministers claimed the now-35-year-old French was released strictly on the basis of humanitarian and health concerns.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende insisted at a press conference in Oslo Wednesday evening that Norwegian authorities have neither paid any money to secure French’s release nor have they promised any additional foreign aid to Congo. French’s release ends years of high-level negotiations between Norway and Congo that at one point involved one of Norway’s top diplomats, Kai Eide, a former UN envoy to Afghanistan.

‘Enormous ordeal’
“This has been an enormous ordeal for French and his family,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said at the press conference, held after she had marched in her own home town of Bergen’s 17th of May parade and after Brende was due to host ambassadors based in Oslo at the government guest house. “It has also been a challenging case, both for Congo and Norway, and I’m glad that we have found a solution.”

Solberg said she sent her “warmest thoughts” to the family of Tjostolv Moland, French’s former fellow soldier and partner when the two tried to set up some business deals in Congo and Uganda. Instead they were arrested on the Congolese side of the border on charges of murdering their taxi driver in May 2009. Both men were imprisoned and Moland was sentenced to death. Moland was later found dead in his prison cell in 2013, an apparent suicide. French, meanwhile, continued to languish in prison and his health deteriorated as he suffered from malaria. His Norwegian mother, Kari Hilde French, eventually moved to Congo and visited him in prison every day, bringing him food and whatever medical supplies she could obtain for him.

That reportedly impressed the Congolese authorities, who ultimately decided to release him also after years of pleas from Norway to allow him to serve his prison term in his homeland. Solberg and Brende said the agreement to release him on humanitarian grounds was approved on Tuesday and French was immediately placed on a private jet with medical personnel on board. He arrived in Oslo at 11am on the 17th of May, just as Constitution Day parades were beginning all over the country.

‘Indescribable joy’
“Our joy is indescribable,” wrote his mother on social media. Both she and her family otherwise declined any interviews, claiming they wanted to be left in peace. French’s attorney said his client had no immediate plans other than to regain his health.

Brende stressed that French has neither been pardoned, as originally declared in February by Congo’s justice minister, or released to serve his life sentence in Norway, but rather has been released purely on humanitarian grounds. “It’s important to underline that French faces no prison term in Norway,” Brende said. That means he is now a free man.

Both Solberg and Brende said he will receive the health care he needs in Norway. Brende said he was taken directly to hospital after landing in Norway on Wednesday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund