Flight to freedom is no free ride | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.05.2009
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Flight to freedom is no free ride

Germans taken hostage abroad may have to repay some of the costs incurred by the government in obtaining their release. A 36-year-old woman held hostage by South American rebels must now pay over 12,000 euros.

Reinhilt Weigel at Frankfurt Airport

When Reinhilt Weigel arrived back in Frankfurt in November 2003 she didn't know the bill was still to come

Germany’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has ruled that German laws that govern consular matters contain provisions that allow them to seek reimbursement of expenses for rescue operations. The ruling came as a shock to 36-year old physiotherapist, Reinhilt Weigel, who must now pay a bill she received a bill from the German foreign ministry for 12,640 euros (17,440 dollars) for a helicopter flight out of the jungle in South America.

Weigel had been trekking through the jungles of Northern Colombia with seven other tourists, when she was taken hostage by left-wing rebels of the National Liberation Army. She was held captive for ten weeks before being released in September 2003. German and Columbian authorities had helped to negotiate her freedom. The rebels had stipulated that Weigel and a Spanish female hostage should be picked up by helicopter.

"I will need years to pay this back"

Weigel then received the bill demanding she pay for her part of the flight. She took the matter to court, and is now extremely disappointed by the ruling that the foreign ministry does have the right to request she pay for her rescue. “I only earn a moderate wage, my life will be ruined for years,“ she said.

Ms Weigel’s lawyer, Josef Mayer, said there was a gap in the law for dealing with such cases.

The lawyer representing the Foreign Ministry, Benjamin Beckmann, said the ministry does not send out bills for all costs incurred. “The ministry does not, of course, include costs for the time spent by consular officials or crisis units in its calculations,” he said.


Editor: Susan Houlton