France jails Ivoirian army officer over disappeared journalist

New York, February 1, 2006—French authorities have jailed an Ivoirian army officer in connection with the 2004 disappearance in Ivory Coast of journalist Guy-André Kieffer, according to Kieffer’s wife and Agence France-Presse. Osange Silou-Kieffer told CPJ today that Capt. Jean-Tony Oulaï was arrested on January 11 in Paris and is being questioned by a French judge investigating Kieffer’s disappearance. On January 26, a Paris court rejected a motion seeking Oulaï’s release.

French judge Patrick Ramaël has been investigating the disappearance of Kieffer, a French and Canadian reporter who was last seen in the parking lot of an Abidjan supermarket on April 16, 2004. The judge has made four visits to Ivory Coast and is due to return on February 16. Despite recent tense relations, war-ravaged Ivory Coast and its former colonial power France are still bound by a number of agreements, including one that pledges them to judicial cooperation on cases such as Kieffer’s.

Ramaël’s office has declined public comment on the case, citing judicial confidentiality rules, but Kieffer’s family has been briefed on developments.

“This recent arrest gives hope that investigations are moving forward and that light can be shed on the disappearance of Guy-André Kieffer,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Our hearts go out to his family and friends who have been without news of him for nearly two years now.”

Ivoirian authorities have also been investigating the case. Michel Legré, a businessman and brother-in-law of Ivory Coast First Lady Simone Gbagbo, was arrested in 2004 and charged by both countries as an accessory to kidnapping. Although no body has been found, Ivoirian authorities also charged him with murder. Legré is the last person known to have seen Kieffer alive and the only other suspect taken into custody in the case.

In October 2005, Ivoirian authorities granted a provisional release to Legré but did not publicly disclose the reasons. Silou-Kieffer and the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said French investigators are looking into whether Oulaï oversaw a plot in which Legré took part.

Silou-Kieffer told CPJ she was “somewhat reassured” by the arrest of Oulaï, but she urged Ivoirian authorities to give Legré to the French for questioning. Oulaï has denied involvement.

Kieffer was a freelance journalist who specialized in Ivory Coast’s lucrative cocoa and coffee sectors, conducting numerous investigations that exposed corruption. His work included contributions to the Paris-based African business newsletter Lettre du Continent.