PARIS – France on Friday rejected a demand by Chad that it pay more than $8 million in compensation to the families of 103 children kidnapped by French aid workers.
The African country's government had sent a letter to French Justice Minister Rachida Dati saying France was liable for the court-ordered damages, since it requested the repatriation of the six members of a charity called Zoe's Ark last year.
"It's up to the French justice system to recover this money," Chadian government spokesman Mahamat Hissene told France Info radio.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Paris had never agreed to any payment in exchange for the prisoners, who were released in March from their French jails after being pardoned by Chadian President Idriss Deby.
"There was no commitment to paying this sum," spokesman Eric Chevallier told France 2 television.
Chadian authorities arrested the aid workers in October 2007 as they sought to put the children on a plane to France, claiming they were orphans from Sudan's conflict-wracked Darfur region, which borders Chad.
An investigation found that the children were Chadian, and that, rather than being orphans, most had at least one parent or a close adult relative.
In December, a Chadian court convicted the six on kidnapping charges and sentenced them to 8 years of forced labor. They were sent to France on Dec. 28 where the sentence was converted into 8 years in prison.
Deby had said that he wanted the children's families to receive a total of $12 million in compensation, though his pardon would not be conditional on receiving money. He also said that if France would not pay the compensation, his government would.
Lawyer Gilbert Collard, who represents aid workers Emilie Lelouch and Eric Breteau, said the court order did not clearly identify the beneficiaries of compensation. "This is attempted extortion," he told France 3 television.
Another defense lawyer for the group said they did not have the means to pay the huge sums requested.