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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Ex-Congo prisoner tells a new story

UPDATED: Joshua French, the British-Norwegian who was held on murder charges in Congo until his state-negotiated release last year, now claims he and his late business partner Tjostolv Moland were “agents” on assignment in Congo when they were arrested in 2009. They were charged with murdering their taxi driver, but French claims the driver was instead shot by Congolese military officers.

The case against Joshua French received wide news coverage in Norway, and Norwegian authorities ultimately negotiated French’s release. Now French has written a book about his experiences and is telling a new story about why he and former business partner, the late Tjostolv Moland went to Congo in 2009. PHOTO: screen grab

French returned to Norway last May after the Norwegian foreign ministry had negotiated his release with Congolese authorities for years. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that the ministry spent at least NOK 11 million (USD 1.4 million) trying to get pair of self-professed “adventurers” home to Norway. French thanked the ministry and others who helped him and his “best friend” Moland, but also claimed the government had no choice: “This was a complete travesty of justice,” he told NRK, stressing that he an Moland ultimately faced death sentences. “That’s serious,” he claimed, and a matter of principle for Norwegian authorities who firmly oppose death sentences anywhere, also in the US.

French and Moland had long argued they were merely on holiday in the Democratic Republic of Congo when their taxi driver was shot during a stop on a remote road 100 kilometers outside Kisangani. Both French and Moland were charged with his murder and later sentenced to death.

That set off years of appeals and new trials, and negotiations between officials in Congo and Norway, which protested the death sentences and tried to get both men repatriated to Norway. Moland was later found dead in his cell, an apparent suicide, but French ended up being charged with his murder as well.

Now French has told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) a very different story about why he and Moland traveled into Congo. He claims that both he and Moland were on an unspecified assignment and stopped on the road in their hired taxi for an alleged meeting with contacts. French told NRK they were actually lured into a trap, with Congolese soldiers allegedly firing at them. Both temporarily escaped.

More questions arise
They fled the scene, French told NRK, after their taxi driver Abedi Kasongo was shot, allegedly by whoever ambushed them. French firmly denies that either he or Moland shot Kasongo. He added that their driver Kasongo was seriously wounded but still alive when they ran off. Both French and Moland were later arrested, however, and spent the next several years on trial and trying to defend themselves in a Congolese military court.

Fench refused to elaborate on their alleged assignment in Congo, raising more questions about his case. He and Moland, both former Norwegian soldiers, had been living in Kampala in Uganda, just over the border from Congo, operating a company called “Special Intervention Group Uganda.” Their website for “SIG Uganda” claimed they offered weapon and tactical training and protection of people, natural resources and strategic installations. They also took on jobs tied to border control and anti-terrorism.

While Moland once told NRK they were only on holiday in Congo, French now says they were on a work assignment. “We were absolutely not just on a guys’ tour,” French told NRK. “We were there on behalf of someone. We were supposed to solve a little problem before we left the country again. That was the goal of the whole trip.” He refused to elaborate further on the nature of the assignment.

Book release looms
They rode on a motorcycle that kept breaking down, eventually arriving in Kisangani where they were supposed to “meet somebody,” but no meeting occurred. Since the motorcycle seemed to have broken down for good, they hired Kasongo to drive them back towards Uganda. On May 5, 2009, however, they stopped on the road 109 kilometers east of Kisangani, allegedly to meet someone. Instead they met soldiers who, French claimed, shot their driver while they mounted a getaway in taxi driver Kasongo’s car.

After a few nights on the run, camping along the way, French was arrested in a village while Moland escaped. He later turned himself in to police in Mambasa, and both he and French faced charges of murder and espionage.

French claims neither he nor Moland had any motives for killing Kasongo. Norwegian government officials, who eventually secured his release, have insisted that no money was paid to the Congolese to win his pardon. Foreign ministry officials won’t specify how much money they spent between 2009 and last year, when an ailing French was finally flown out of Congo on a specially chartered aircraft. NRK compiled bills for transport, attorneys’ and intepreters’ fees, an autopsy of Moland and other expenses but a ministry spokesman said there are no accounts of how many hours staff worked on the case.

French, now living on his family’s small farm in Vestfold, is about to release a book on their ordeal in Congo, entitled “Two White Men.” French’s mother, who moved to Congo while he was in prison there, has also written a book with a film reportedly in the works. Berglund



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