Aid workers from the French charity Zoe’s Ark have gone on trial in Paris, accused of fraud.
They were arrested in Chad, central Africa, in October 2007, in the process of putting 103 children on a plane, claiming they were orphans for whom adoption had been arranged in France.
The case shocked the public in both countries, and strained diplomatic relations.
An investigation revealed that most of the children were not orphans, and were not from neighbouring Sudan’s troubled Darfur region but came from Chad.
Zoe’s Ark founder Eric Breteau and his girlfriend Emile Lelouch, the two leading suspects, are being tried in absentia. They are in South Africa.
Their defence team is expected to make use of a French television report which shows them meeting with Sudanese mothers.
Emile Lelouch can clearly be heard telling them that they would not be able to send their children to France for a better life.
A birth certificate for one child came up in the trial in Chad; it says the parents were killed by the Janjaweed militia in Darfur.
Among the four worker present to face the charges brought by the French authorities is logistics organiser Alain Péligat. He says they acted in good faith.
In a recent interview Péligat said: “We learned a lot of things when they let us out of prison there. Everyone had a job to do and worked hard for 12-14 hours a day. It was very compartmentalised, each person taking care of a task.”
The workers were convicted for kidnapping in Chad, and sentenced to forced labour but were pardoned by Chad’s president.
Among the plaintiffs in this case are some of the families who were ready to adopt refugees.
The NGO’s website says no one knows what happened to the children.