Norwegians mercenaries face death penalty in Congo

Two former Norwegian soldiers are sentenced to death for murder and espionage by a military tribunal in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Joshua Olav Daniel Hodne French, sometimes called John Hunt, (born April 7, 1982) and Tjostolv Moland, sometimes called Mike Callan (born in 1981) are two Norwegian former soldiers who later worked in the security industry.

French grew up in Re in Vestfold and has both Norwegian and British citizenship. Moland is from Vegårshei in Aust-Agder county. In May 2009, French and his partner and friend Moland were arrested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accused of murder and espionage for Norway.

On September 8, they were both found guilty on all accounts and sentenced to death by a military tribunal in the regional capital Kisangani. In addition to the death sentence for both, the tribunal ordered the Norwegian government to pay a USD 1 compensation to each Congolese citizen; the Democratic Republic of the Congo has an estimated population of 66,020,000.

French and Moland were reportedly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to set up their own security company. In May 2009, they were arrested in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and charged in the killing of their hired driver, 47-year old Adebi Kasongo, which occurred on May 5, 2009. The military tribunal convened in Kisangani on August 14. Congolese authorities believe French and Moland shot and killed Adebi Kasongo on an isolated section of road between Kisangani and the Ugandan border.

During the criminal investigation, the Congolese authorities found Norwegian military ID cards, counterfeit United Nations caps, and employee ID badges with both the correct and false names of French and Moland. The employee badges were from a little known security company named Special Interventions Group (SIG) which is owned by and mostly staffed by Norwegians. The investigators also found SIG-Uganda employee ID badges which bore the identical SIG logo and the false names of “John Hunt” and “Mike Callan” accompanying both French and Moland’s respective photographs.

During a raid on French and Moland’s apartment, authorities also confiscated at least one rifle and a camera containing images of French and Moland on their recent travels in Africa. In one image, believed to have been taken by French, Moland is seen smiling as he washes what is believed to be the blood of Adebi Kasongo from the inside of their hired car. French and Moland have said that Abedi Kasongo was shot and killed when their car was attacked by gunmen on the road.

On September 8, 2009, French and Moland were found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. Along with the death sentence for both, the tribunal ordered the Norwegian government to pay a USD 1 compensation to each Congolese citizen, an amount Judge Claude Disimo said totals more than USD 60 million. Norwegian authorities have denied French and Moland were involved in espionage for Norway, and have expressed concern they were not receiving a fair trial.

The case has been widely covered in the Norwegian media Dagbladet, which has described much of the evidence presented against French and Moland as “contradicting and seemingly absurd.”

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