June 13, 2007 / 2:32 PM / 12 years ago

Romania sentences Arab businessman for Iraq kidnap

BUCHAREST, June 13 (Reuters) - A Romanian court on Wednesday sentenced an Arab businessman in absentia to 20 years in prison after finding him guilty of masterminding the kidnap of three Romanian journalists in Iraq in 2005.

Omar Hayssam, a Syrian-Romanian financier, disappeared from Romania last year after a local court let him leave a prison hospital to recover at home following surgery for colon cancer.

His escape triggered the resignation of Romania’s chief prosecutor and of the heads of the Black Sea state’s main secret services last July.

"The court sentenced Omar Hayssam to 20 years in prison, the toughest sentence possible," a judge from the Court of Appeals said in the ruling. The decision can be appealed.

Hayssam, who is believed to be hiding in Lebanon or Syria, was also ordered to pay 2 million euros ($2.66 million) in damages to each of the three journalists.

In a telephone interview with private TV station Realitatea, Hayssam said he was innocent.

Prima TV reporter Marie Jeanne Ion, cameraman Sorin Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian, a journalist with the newspaper Romania Libera, were abducted in Baghdad on March 28, 2005. They were rescued after 55 days in captivity.

Hayssam was arrested in Romania soon after the kidnap and prosecutors charged him and Mohamad Munaf, the journalists’ Iraq guide and Hayssam’s business partner, with organising the abduction to help Hayssam escape organised crime charges.

Romanian media speculated that Hayssam had hoped prosecutors would drop the organised crime charges when he presented himself as a go-between, paying a ransom to the kidnappers and bringing back the journalists.

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