30 October 2009

Vikings in the Congo

Interesting case that has been big news in Norway but hardly made the news elsewhere in the World is the curious case of Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, two Norwegian adventurers who have ended up facing the death penalty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The facts of the case are rather muddled both because this is Africa and nothing is ever clear cut and secondly because I am trying to follow the case in the Norwegian press.

The facts as I can determine them

1. The two guys are ex military, some reports say they were in the Telemark Battalion which is sort of special forces, but not quite the SAS!
2. They were wandering around Africa, although it is less clear why. They claim they were trying to start an adventure tourism business - unlikely! They also claim to have been trying to set up a security company, which is more probable but less well advised.

3. Somewhere in the jungle, their Congolese driver was shot and killed. They claim by bandits, the court claims by them. There is no obvious reason why they would shoot and kill their driver.
4. There is a rather incriminating mobile phone pic of one of them cleaning up the blood in the car - rather like the Pulp Fiction scene (see below). There is no real explanation for why he is on brain detail or why he is smiling.

5. After the shooting they did a runner, they claim to escape the bandits, the government claim they were running away.

6. They gave themselves up a few days later and were arrested and put on trial.

And then things got really weird...
They were put on trial for murder but the prosecutor upped the stakes and claimed they were spies working for the Norwegian government. The DCR government then issued a bill to the Norwegian government for 500 billion USD. The Norwegian Government predictably denied any involvement and refused to pay. The DRC prosecutor then issued a photo of their "controller" who turned out to be a reporter from some small local newspaper in the Oslo region. He was rather surprised to see himself on TV since he didn't even know where the Congo was. Other sources have suggested that they were adventurers, kids who were trying to set up a private security firm and got in way out of their depth. One thing in their favour is that the area in which the incident happened is notorious for armed robberies by gangs and there is no logical reason why they would kill the driver there or then. The case from the prosecution does not address this, focusing on the spy story, presumably for financial gain.

After a fairly shambolic trail held in french, which neither understood, they were found guilty of murder, espionage, attempted murder etc and each given five death sentences. Interestingly, they both seem pretty calm, despite the fact they are obviously in some African hell hole and on death row. They are currently appealing the conviction.
Reaction in Norway is very mixed and provides an interesting insight into the national psyche. Many think that it is disgraceful and that they are arrogant white neo-colonialists who killed a poor black person and they deserve what ever they get. Another group simply can't understand why anyone would leave Norway, let alone go to darkest Africa. The final group is outraged that a Norwegian could possibly face the death penalty, given that no Norwegian has been executed since WW2.
The truth may never come out, the fact that a man died is inescapable, but how is a mystery. The behaviour of the DRC government, trying to generate an international incident to extract vast sums of money simply muddies the waters and paints them in the same league as the Nigerian 419 scammers who offer you the chance to have your share of a dead bank managers 20 million. The behaviour of the guys, their calm demeanour, the photo, what they were doing, why they ran all just add to a rather intriguing story which is significantly more interesting than the usual "Moose breaks flower pot" .

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