LEIPZIG, Germany – A former hostage must pay the German government $17,630 to cover the cost of a helicopter it chartered to bring her part of the way home after her release by Colombian rebels, a court ruled Thursday.
Reinhilt Weigel was backpacking through northern Colombia when she was taken hostage by National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebels along with six other tourists.
After 74 days, she and a Spanish tourist were released and transported to Bogota by helicopter according to the kidnappers' requests. She paid for her own flight back to Germany.
The Foreign Ministry asked Weigel to cover the cost of the helicopter it arranged to take her and a Spanish ex-hostage from the northern Colombian jungle to the capital in 2003.
The government billed her for the costs in 2004 and argued that she negligently put herself in a dangerous situation. Weigel appealed.
Under German law, German consular services abroad are required to assist individual citizens in distress.
However, the Federal Administrative Court found that German law provides in principle for former hostages to pay back the costs of their release.
It ruled that whether ex-hostages must help pay all those costs could depend, for example, on whether a travel warning was in the place for the region in question — which it was — or whether the person involved was a tourist or an aid worker.
Demands for the restitution of costs must not be disproportionate, the court said, but the Foreign Ministry had only sought part of the costs incurred by the situation.
Weigel's lawyer, Josef Mayer, argued that there was no legal basis for demanding that his client pay. There was no immediate word on whether she might appeal.