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 before the judges.
Osange Silou-Kieffer, the Canadian-French journalist's wife, and other family members also voiced their concern following the meeting. Kieffer was abducted from an Abidjan car park in April 2004.
The civil parties to the case have urged the Prosecutor's Office, 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 may be cleared up.
"The claims made by this witness are serious and should be checked. The Prosecutor's Office must allow the examining judges to establish the facts and responsibility in this incident, which has succeeded in obscuring what is already a complicated enough case, for reasons of jurisdiction," 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 reveal information on the kidnapping and false imprisonment of Kieffer.
On 24 July, the judge sought and obtained permission from the chief prosecutor and the bail court judge to interview the witness on the condition of anonymity. The identity of the witness was noted by the judge, according to procedure.
The witness appeared at the court 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, an adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on justice issues.
The examining judge made a note of the incident in the file and summoned Patrick Ouart as a witness on 23 September. At his hearing, Ouart denied having made contact with or putting pressure on any witness. The following day, he brought a complaint against X for "false accusations." The Prosecutor's Office has not yet ruled on the case.
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 abducted 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 Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. Legré was indicted by Judge Ramael 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.
Jean-Tony Oulai, an Ivorian national who calls himself an "ex-army captain" and who some witnesses accuse of supervising the abduction of Kieffer, was also indicted 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 difficulty of conducting investigations on the ground, and a conspiracy of silence around those involved in the case, all of them close to the Ivorian presidency.