Reporters Without Borders said it was mystified to learn at a meeting with the French investigating judges in the Guy-André Kieffer abduction case that a witness has claimed to have been put under pressure from within the French presidency not to testify to the judges.
Osange Silou-Kieffer, the wife of the freelance Canadian-French journalist who was abducted from an Abidjan car park in April 2004, and family members also voiced their concern following the meeting.
The civil parties to the case have urged the public ministry, which has so far been silent on the issue, to quickly entrust an investigation to the two judges, Patrick Ramael and Nicolas Blot, so that the incident can be cleared up.
“The claims made by this witness are serious and should be checked. The public ministry must allow the examining judges to establish the facts and responsibilities in this incident, interfering with a case that is already complicated enough for reasons of state” the worldwide press freedom organisation and the Kieffer family said.
A witness contacted the judge, Patrick Ramael on 21 July 2008 saying that he was prepared, on condition of anonymity, to give information to the investigation into “kidnapping and false imprisonment” that was opened after Kieffer’s disappearance.
The judge on 24 July sought and obtained permission from the chief prosecutor and the judge handling detentions and freedoms, to interview the witness on the basis of anonymity. The identity of the witness was given with the request in conformity with procedure.
The witness appeared at the palace of justice as agreed on 28 July but told Judge Ramael at the last moment that he no longer wished to give evidence. He referred to “pressure” from two people, but named only Patrick Ouart, adviser to French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, on justice issues.
The examining judge made a note of the incident on the file and summoned Patrick Ouart as a witness. At this interview, on 23 September, Ouart denied having made contact with any witness and putting pressure on him. The following day he laid a complaint against X for “false accusation”.
The judges, Patrick Ramael and Nicolas Blot, have not yet received this complaint and the public ministry has not yet replied to their request for the submission of the case to court for “suborning a witness”.
Reporters Without Borders, the family and wife of Guy-André Kieffer, as well as the French trade union SNJ-CGT, are all civil parties in the case.
Kieffer was snatched from the car park of an Abidjan supermarket on 16 April 2004, after being lured there by Michel Legré, brother-in-law of Simone Gbagbo, wife of the president Laurent Gbagbo. Judge Ramael placed Legré under investigation on 21 October 2004 for “kidnapping and false imprisonment”. Although supposedly under house arrest in Abidjan, following 18 months in custody, he is free to move around including out of the country.
Ivorian, Jean-Tony Oulai, who calls himself an “ex-army captain” and who some witnesses accuse of directing the abduction of Kieffer was put under investigation for “kidnapping and false imprisonment” in France in 2006 and remanded in custody. But the investigation has been hampered by poor relations between France and Cote d’Ivoire, the problem of investigating on the spot, and a conspiracy of silence around those involved in the case, all of them close to the Ivorian presidency.