In spite of denials by top officials, Germany, France and Italy reportedly paid $45 million for hostages taken in Iraq, a London newspaper reported.
Leipzig residents were grateful for the release of two of their own
It was welcome news in Leipzig and elsewhere in Germany. About three weeks ago, the German foreign ministry announced the release of German engineers Rene Braunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, who had been kidnapped in January.
That was about six months after the release of another German hostage, Susanne Ostloff, who was held for three weeks.
Both times, German government officials denied payments to kidnappers amid wide-spread speculation and even confirmation by the hostages themselves. They also gave no details on the releases.
"Our principle is that the government rejects ransom payments," Reinhard Silberberg, the head of the German foreign ministry's team responsible for such matters told the Leipziger Volkszeitung. "The government doesn't let itself be blackmailed."
Reportedly $5 million was paid for the release of Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich
France and Italy, both of whom had hostages freed in the past year, have made similar statements.
But now, documents unearthed by the London Times show the three countries approved of payments worth $45 million (34 million euros) to free nine hostages in Iraq.
Anger over payments
The paper reported that the documents, held by security officials in Baghdad involved in hostage negotiations, show the governments involved paid between $2.5 million and $10 million per hostage in the past two years.
That includes an alleged $3 million for Ostloff, $5 million for Braunlich and Nitzschke from Germany; $10 million for journalist Florence Aubenas and $15 million for journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot from France, released in June 2005 and December 2004 respectively; and $6 million for Guiliana Segrena and $5 million for aid volunteers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta from Italy, who were freed in March 2005 and September 2004 respectively.
The documents also show, according to the newspaper, that the al-Qaeda-affiliated gang responsible for kidnapping and murdering British engineer Kenneth Bigley in 2004 also received money.
Since the war began in 2003, more than 250 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq. To date, about 44 have been killed, and 135 released. Six were rescued, three escaped, and nothing more is known about the others.
French officials have denied paying for the release of their citizens, according to the Associated Press.
"As French authorities indicated at the moment of the release of the hostages, there has been no payment of ransom," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.
German and Italian officials have not commented on the matter.
German Foriegn Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has come close to admitting payments for hostages
Other countries such as Sweden, Romania and Turkey have allegedly paid for hostages, as have US companies doing reconstruction work in Iraq. And about 30 Iraqis are kidnapped a day, according to police. Most are returned after families pay ransoms.
Many are criticizing the practice of giving in to kidnappers' demands saying it encourages them.
"In theory we stand together in not rewarding kidnappers but in practice it seems some administrations have parted with cash and so it puts other foreign nationals at risk from gangs who are confident that some governments do pay," one senior diplomat in Iraq told the newspaper. British officials criticized the practice openly but the newspaper noted that Irish aid worker Margaret Hassan, who had lived in Iraq for 30 years, was murdered in November 2004 after Prime Minister Tony Blair said on a Arab satellite channel that the government would not pay any ransom.