OSLO (Reuters) - A Norwegian man jailed for life in Democratic Republic of Congo for murder and espionage has been freed and returned to Norway, the Scandinavian country’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
Joshua French, who also holds a British passport, was convicted along with fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland of killing their Congolese driver and spying in 2009 and was initially sentenced to death before his sentence was commuted.
The men, both former soldiers, had denied the charges, saying that they had been setting up a local security business and that their driver had been shot and killed by gunmen when their car was attacked.
“The Norwegian and Congolese governments have agreed to transfer Joshua French to Norway. He came back to Norway today and is receiving medical assistance,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference.
Congolese authorities agreed to allow French to return to Norway on health and humanitarian grounds, Norway’s foreign minister Boerge Brende said.
Moland was found dead in his cell in a military prison in August 2013 and a Congolese military court found French guilty of his murder.
A Norwegian forensics team sent to Congo as part of consular assistance to French told the court that Moland had hanged himself.
The Norwegian government, which has denied the two men were spies, had been seeking to have them transferred to Norway to serve their term.
Norway considers French to be a free man, although he has not been pardoned in Congo, Brende said.
Norway did not pay any money for his release or promise any payments in the future, he added.
At one stage a Congolese court had ordered the Norwegian government to pay more than $500 million in damages to Congo.
Congolese authorities were not immediately available on Wednesday to comment.
Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa, Editing by Gareth Jones and Toby Chopra