Police investigators head for Congo

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A team from Norway’s state police investigation unit Kripos were heading for Congo this week to probe the circumstances around the death of a Norwegian prisoner in his jail cell, and to monitor his autopsy. The prisoner’s fellow Norwegian convict has found himself under suspicion, and hopes the investigators can help clear him as well.

Former Norwegian elite soldier Tjostolv Moland was found dead in his cell in Kinshasa in Congo over the weekend, four years after he and fellow former soldier Joshua French were arrested and later convicted for the murder of their taxi driver. Both had pleaded innocence but nonetheless were sentenced to death and have since languished in Congolese prisons under difficult conditions.

New cooperation
Repeated efforts by Norwegian authorities and top politicians to get Moland and French extradited or pardoned have been all but ignored by their Congolese counterparts, but now their requests for cooperation after Moland’s death are being met. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said he was relieved that officials in Congo went along with Norway’s requests that Norwegian police be involved in the investigation into Moland’s death.

Hopes have also risen that French may be allowed to leave Congo along with Moland’s body, either with a pardon or an agreement to serve prison time in Norway.

Moland’s family calls the suspicions against French absurd and believes he had no part in Moland’s death. French told newspaper Aftenposten that he thinks “someone is out to blame me” for the death of Moland, whom he considered a good friend.

‘Enemies’
It was French who found Moland dead in the cell that they shared in the Kinshasa prison.”I checked his pulse and breathing and could determine he was dead,” French told Aftenposten.

He claims it’s his “enemies” in the Congolese army who are trying to trump up more charges against him, or extract some form of payment. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has reported that former soldiers like French and Moland are often unpopular with established military who view them as mercenaries in search of profits. French and Moland had earlier claimed they were operating a security service in Uganda and were on a business trip to Congo when they were arrested in 2009.

French claimed he has support from fellow prisoners and that “everyone knows it’s politics they (military authorities) are using here. So all possible support from Norway and Great Britain is an advantage right now.” Since French also has a British passport, the British authorities are involved in efforts to secure his extradition or pardon.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund