Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1999 21:28:36 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: POLITICS-CONGO: Four European Mercenaries Handed Prison Sentences
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Four European Mercenaries Handed Prison Sentences
By Lyne Mikangou, IPS, 10 December 1999
BRAZZAVILLE, Dec 10 (IPS) - A Congolese court in the capital Brazzaville this week sentenced four European mercenaries for plotting to overthrow head of state, Denis Sassou Nguesso, in March, to varying prison sentences.
Claude Dominique Hermant, a French electrician accused of masterminding the plot, was sentenced to seven years. Lastric Bathold, a Croatian economist, received five years. Fabio Vanoti, an Italian security agent, and Richard Sarda, a French security expert, each were sentenced to two years
Arrested in March, the four had been invited to Brazzaville to provide security for President Nguesso and train local agents of his security service. The four men were also charged with compromising domestic security and attempting to destabilise the government.
During the trial, Sarda claimed that they were contacted, while they were in Europe, by Bernard Courcel, previously on the security staff of ex-French Prime Minister Charles Pasqua, to come to Congo to ensure the safety of President Nguesso. Courcel was a longtime member of Pasqua's security detail.
By the time the four were scheduled to take their plane from Paris to Brazzaville, another French national, Marti Cappiau, contacted them with an offer to destabilise Congo's ruling regime. Cappiau had been an aide to former Congolese President Pascal Lissouba during the 1997 civil war in Congo-Brazzaville.
"It was filth, and we refused", Sarda insisted, adding that, despite the distraction, they received their visas without any complication from the Congolese embassy in Paris.
Suspected of hatching a plot against the president and the government, the four were arrested and detained in a dungeon-like prison run by the dreaded Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST).
Last June, they escaped from the DST jail and sought refuge at the French Embassy in Brazzaville. However, they were handed back to the Congolese authorities for trial.
"We were being held under terrible conditions in a 2-metre dungeon where we slept on excrement and ate off the floor. I was tortured, and a DST officer threatened to kill me if I did not confess to the deeds I was being accused of", Sarda claimed.
Attorney General, Gabriel Entcha Ebia, said the four accused were being held under exceptional conditions because a special budget had been allocated for their confinement.
Lawyers for the accused demanded that their clients be released, saying that the state possessed no credible evidence that they were in any way involved in a plot.
According to one of their lawyers, Jean-Phillippe Esseau, requesting appeal, from the Supreme Court, the country's highest judicial body, just slows down the process.
"An appeal does nothing about the judgement handed down. This is a political case", says Esseau, who is planning to ask President Nguesso for clemency.
The court also sentenced, in absentia, former President Lissouba and his Minister of Finance, Nguila Moungounga Kombo, to 20 years in prison.
Colonel Da Costa, a former militia instructor close to Lissouba and Cappiau, Lissouba's aide during the 1997 civil war, also received a 20 year prison sentence.
All those sentenced will be required to pay symbolic damages of one CFA franc to the President, and damages and interest to the government which will come to five million CFA francs each.
One US Dollar is equal to 600 CFA francs.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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