French indicted in Moland’s death

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Norway’s foreign ministry has sent a special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo after its military indicted Joshua French, a young Norwegian man who’s been imprisoned in Congo since 2009, with the murder of his Norwegian cell mate. The indictment, confirmed on Monday, has stunned both French, his family and the Norwegian government.

Joshua French, in the cell he shared with fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland in Kisangani, before the two were transferred to another prison. After Moland's death in August, French was moved to another cell that he shares with nine other prisoners. PHOTO: Christian Thomassen/NTB Scanpix

Joshua French, in the cell he shared with fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland in Kisangani before the two were transferred to another prison. After Moland’s death in August, French was moved to another cell that he now shares with nine other prisoners. PHOTO: Christian Thomassen/NTB Scanpix

“We don’t understand what’s come forth now,” Svein Michelsen, spokesman for the foreign ministry, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Our people in Kinshasa (Congo) have been in contact with French. He’s taking the indictment very hard and is naturally very upset about this.”

Michelsen told NRK that foreign ministry officials, who have been trying to get French and, earlier, his late business partner and cellmate Tjostolv Moland extradited to Norway, received confirmation of French’s indictment on Monday, “and we immediately dispatched an envoy to follow up this case.”

French and Moland, two former Norwegian soldiers who have said they were setting up a security business in Uganda and Congo, were first arrested in Congo in May 2009. Their driver had been found dead and the two Norwegians were charged with his murder.

Both men consistently claimed innocence, but they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death in three different courts in Congo. The latest sentences were handed down in 2010, with Moland convicted of their driver’s murder and French as an accessory, among other charges. The two men decided not to appeal, in the hopes that Norwegian officials would succeed in arranging for them to be extradited back to Norway.

No response to extradition request
Norwegian authorities sent a proposal for an extradition but have never received a response. British authorities have also been involved in the negotiations with their counterparts in Congo, since French also has a British passport.

French and Moland continued to languish in a Congolese jail in Kisangani until December 2011, when they were transferred to a prison in Kinshasa. On August 18 of this year, Moland was found dead in his cell. The Congolese authorities now claim that French killed him.

“Today the military issued an indictment against Joshua,” his mother, Kari Hilde French, wrote on her blog on Monday. “He is charged with murdering his good friend Tjostolv Moland. Joshua was questioned once again on November 13, but there were no new questions. Joshua still hasn’t received any medical attention.”

Need more information
Michelsen of the foreign ministry stressed that “at the invitation of the Congolese authorities, (Norway’s own special crime investigation unit) Kripos took part in the investigation and autopsy after Moland’s death.” Congolese police and Kripos concluded that there was nothing criminal behind the death and it was eventually ruled a suicide.

Moland’s body was finally returned to Norway and he was buried in his small hometown in southern Norway. Now the Congolese authorities appear to have changed their minds regarding the cause of his death, claiming in November that the initial suicide conclusion was not binding.

Norwegian authorities hope their envoy can get more information from the Congolese authorities. Demands for large sums of money in connection with any eventual extradition or release of the Norwegians have earlier been lodged, for example by the widow of the driver who was killed nearly five years ago.

The envoy’s “main assignment, though, is to support French in this difficult time,” Michelsen told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund