Held to Ransom Court Rules Hostages Must Pay for own Rescue
Being a German hostage just got more expensive. A Berlin court has ruled that the government can force victims to pay for the expenses incurred in rescuing them.
Huegun Etxeberria of Spain and Reinhilt Weigel of Germany were rescued after 10 weeks' captivity in the Colombian jungle in 2003. Now Weigel will have to cough up the cash for her rescue.
The ruling of the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court is based on the case of Reinhilt Weigel. On Sept. 12, 2003, the Bremen physiotherapist, together with six other tourists, was kidnapped by leftist rebels while visiting the ruined ancient city of Ciudad Perdida in northern Colombia.
After 10 weeks in captivity, she and Spanish fellow hostage Huegun Etxeberria were rescued by helicopter from a jungle hide-out. But there was an unexpected postscript to the story two months after Weigel's return home, when the German Foreign Ministry asked her to pay 12,640 ($18,735) for the helicopter flight.
Weigel found the sum excessive and took legal action against the government's demand. In the first instance, the administrative court decided in Weigel's favour. But the German government then appealed that ruling -- and won.
In its ruling Thursday, the court deemed that, according to consular law, the Foreign Ministry had the right to demand compensation for expenses incurred in a rescue. Consular law states that Germans who require assistance abroad must be granted it by the state if no other means of help are available. However the recipient is required to later repay the expenses incurred.
A related issue of ongoing concern in government circles is that of ransom payments. Given the steady rise in their cost and the fact that these payments often land in the pockets of terrorists, some security experts question the wisdom of making them at all.