Leaders of French charity in child kidnap affair freed

(From 2nd left to right) Alain Peligat, Emilie Lelouch and Eric Breteau in N'Djamena on April 18, 2013.  By Pascal Guyot (AFP/File)

(From 2nd left to right) Alain Peligat, Emilie Lelouch and Eric Breteau in N’Djamena on April 18, 2013. By Pascal Guyot (AFP/File)

PARIS (AFP) – The founder of French charity Arche de Zoe (Zoe’s Ark) and his partner, who tried in 2007 to abduct 103 children from Chad, have been released from jail, their lawyer said Friday.

A court of appeal on Thursday morning decided to free Eric Breteau and Emilie Lelouch under police surveillance pending their appeal due on November 20, according to the lawyer.

Breteau, 42, and Lelouch, 37, were sentenced on February 12 to a three-year jail term, one year of which was suspended, notably on conviction of fraud.

Local authorities on October 27, 2007, put an end to an operation in which Arche de Zoe planned to fly 103 children out of Abache airport in eastern Chad, on the grounds that they were orphans from war-torn Darfur in Sudan across the border.

Members of the charity put bandages on children to cover non-existent wounds and were prepared to send them out of the central African country to France to be taken in by host families.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby described the incident as a “pure and simple kidnapping”, while several non-governmental organisations said that the children in question were not Darfur refugees, but mostly Chadians with at least one living parent.

Breteau and Lelouch are due to appear before the appeal court with the logistics chief of the foiled operation, Alain Peligat, who has been given a suspended prison sentence of six months.

Last Sunday, Deby reiterated that he still hoped that France would pay damages to Chad over the affair.