August 18, 2013 / 11:23 PM / 5 years ago

Norwegian man jailed for Congo murder found dead in prison cell

KINSHASA/OSLO (Reuters) - One of two Norwegian men jailed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on charges of murder, espionage and conspiracy was found dead in his cell on Sunday, Norwegian and Congolese authorities said.

Tjostolv Moland had been detained along with Joshua French since the 2009 murder of their driver in Congo’s jungle. The pair denied the charges. Norway has maintained that the men, both former military servicemen, were not spies.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said he would not speculate about the cause of death but added that Norway would use “full pressure” to seek clarification. Congolese authorities “bear full responsibility” for providing answers, he added.

Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister, said the Congolese government is investigating Moland’s death.

“We’re trying to determine whether it was suicide or homicide. It looks like suicide but we’re not sure,” he told Reuters, without giving further details.

A Congolese court at one stage handed down the death penalty and ordered the Norwegian government to pay more than $500 million in damages to Congo. The death penalty was later overturned by Congo’s military high court.

“We have been working with Congolese authorities through various channels over the years, some public, others not, without any success. I can honestly say that no case in the ministry has demanded more of our resources and attention,” Eide told a news conference in Norway.

“Our main focus now is to get French home. ... That’s more important than ever,” he added.

Moland’s death was big news in Norway and dominated the headlines, relegating the upcoming elections to second place.

Moland’s lawyer, Hans Marius Graasvold, told daily Aftenposten that Moland had been ill several times since 2009 and has been treated for malaria and psychosis.

He also said that Moland and French shared a cell for most of the time but would not say if French found the body or if they were in the same cell at the time of death.

Reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo and Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Will Dunham

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