French aid workers go on trial in African child adoption case

Mon Dec 3, 2012 1:27pm EST
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PARIS (Reuters) - A group of former French charity workers convicted of abducting African children in Chad only to be later pardoned went on trial in Paris on Monday charged with defrauding French families who had hoped to adopt the youngsters.

Zoe's Ark, a non-profit group, was accused of trying to illegally fly 103 children out of Chad to France and six of its members were convicted and jailed in 2007 in a case that sparked angry protests in the Central African country.

They were returned to France to serve out their sentences, but were freed in March 2008 after being pardoned by Chad's President Idriss Deby.

Four of the six have now gone on trial in Paris, along with a journalist and a member of the group who never left France.

They face up to 10 years in prison and 750,000 euros ($975,400) each in fines for fraud, for being an illegal intermediary in an adoption and for aiding foreign minors to stay illegally in France.

The trial, which is expected to last until mid-December, relates to the charity's activities in France before its workers left for Chad. Over 350 French families were promised a child from Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region and paid up to several thousand euros each in the expectation of adopting.

About 30 of those potential foster parents are civil parties in the case. Their lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, told reporters at the courtroom his clients had been duped.

"Everything was done so that these families believed that a child was on its way, and an adoption, based on incompetence at best, and ignorance at worst," Dupond-Moretti said.