The South African government has denied paying 3.5-million euros in ransom for the release of Stephen McGown who had been held hostage by Al Qaeda in Mali since November 2011.
McGown‚ who was released last Saturday‚ was one of the last three hostages to be released by the militants.
Earlier on Thursday‚ Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane briefed the media about his release and said he was currently undergoing medical check-ups.
“It took us about five years and eight months for him to be released through long discussions and negotiations‚ we didn’t pay money. Obviously‚ the government thanked Mali‚ the African Union and the various NGOs that supported this process and other role players as this wasn’t an effort by a single individual‚ it was a collaborative effort by many players‚” said Clayson Monyela‚ spokesperson for the Department of International Relations.
“We don’t have a policy of responding to anonymous people. What was said by the minister represents the government’s position on this‚” added Monyela.
The denial comes after The New York Times reported that an estimated 3.5-million euros was paid to secure the release of McGown who had been taken hostage along with Swedish national Johan Gustafsson and Hollander Sjaak Rijke‚ a Dutch citizen.
The trio were snatched from a restaurant in Timbuktu along with a German friend‚ who was killed immediately by the militants.
Gift of the Givers‚ which was at the forefront of the negotiations to secure McGown’s release‚ said it had not been involved in the last stages of the negotiations and therefore could not confirm if a payment had indeed been made.
“We never paid the ransom money. We were involved until the end of June after making contacts with all the captives through an intermediary and, by the end of June‚ we told government we cannot go any further because it requires government to government intervention‚” said Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers.
“This required the Mali government to speak to the South African government and their militaries and this was beyond us. The captives told us they wanted 4-million euros at the time and we said we don’t have money and don’t pay money. You will have to speak to the government because we were not involved in the last stage‚ we cannot confirm if indeed money was exchanged‚” said Sooliman.[Source: times live]