The central African Republic charges French national with espionage
Juan Remy Quignolot was detained on May 10 after police said it had found weapons, military fatigues and foreign banknotes at his residence in the capital, Bangui. Authorities accused him of having aided and trained rebel fighters in the conflict-wracked country since 2013.
He made no reference to any country or organization for whom Quignolot allegedly worked, but said any trial would take place within six months.
“In cases of harming domestic security, you’re talking about lifetime forced labor,” he said, referring to the potential punishment.
Quignolot, 55, has denied the accusations. There was no immediate comment by the French embassy in Bangui and France’s foreign ministry.
The French government had previously provided authorities in Bangui with 10 million euros ($12.18m) in budgetary support. It also maintains a force of nearly 300 soldiers in the CAR.
Photos circulating on social media on the day of Quignolot’s arrest showed him with his hands bound behind his back, sitting on some steps before an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, and military clothing.
Two days later, France condemned the arrest and the pictures as “clear manipulation”.
It said “disinformation networks” were being used, “promoting well-identified interests who are used to targeting France’s presence and actions” in the CAR.
Quignolot’s arrest was notably conveyed on Twitter by Valery Zakharov, a Russian who is a close adviser to the CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
Russia has ramped up military support in the CAR, sending hundreds of military instructors to arm and train government troops to fend off the country’s myriad rebel movements.
The gold- and diamond-producing nation of 4.7 million people have seen repeated bouts of violence from armed groups since 2013, including a civil war that ended in 2016, as well as election-related fighting earlier this year.