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France/Cote d’Ivoire10 July 2008

President Gbagbo’s associates fail to cooperate with French probe into journalist’s disappearance

Simone Gbagbo, the wife of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, and former Ivorian economy minister Paul-Antoine Bohoun Bouabré failed to respond to a summons from French investigating judge Patrick Ramaël for questioning today in Paris as witnesses in his probe into the disappearance of journalist Guy-André Kieffer, a dual French-Canadian national, in Côte d’Ivoire in 2004.

Reporters Without Borders and the Kieffer family regret that once again the persons whose names have most often come up in the investigation are not cooperating with the French judicial authorities.

“By using bureaucratic pretexts for refusing to cooperate with the judicial authorities, President Gbagbo’s associates show they want to cover up Kieffer’s disappearance,” Reporters Without Borders and the Kieffer family said. “But the further the investigation advances, the more they are involved. Simone Gbagbo and Paul-Antoine Bohoun Bouabré knew Judge Ramaël wanted to question them. By refusing to respond to his summons, they are just reinforcing the suspicions against them.”

Ramaël told Radio France Internationale on 8 July that he had summoned Simone Gbagbo and Bouabré for questioning in his Paris office as witnesses in the Kieffer case because their names have repeatedly being mentioned when other witnesses and suspects have been interrogated.

But a few hours later, lawyers representing Gbagbo and Bouabré denied that any summonses had been received. It seems the method used to send the summonses, directly to their homes in Côte d’Ivoire via the French embassy there, did not comply with a Franco-Ivorian judicial convention requiring the use of the French foreign ministry and the Ivorian embassy in Paris.

Kieffer’s wife, Osange Silou-Kieffer, said the Ivorian judges in charge of Côte d’Ivoire’s investigation into the case were able to question all the people they wanted when they came to France last month. But they did not ask to interview her, she pointed out.

A freelance journalist based in Abidjan, Kieffer was looking into shady government practices in the country’s cocoa industry when he disappeared on 16 April 2004. French investigators say armed men kidnapped him from the parking lot of an Abidjan supermarket just as he was about to meet with Simone Gbagbo’s brother-in-law, Michel Legré.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised the Kieffer family in August 2007 that everything possible would be done to find out what happened to him.

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