France and Korea Fight Over Two Frozen Babies

Jean-Louis and Veronique Courjault were respected members of a small community of French expatriates in South Korea. He worked in Seoul as an engineer for an American company. She was a dedicated volunteer at a local kindergarten.

But the couple's stellar reputation was shattered this July after Courjault said he returned home to Seoul from a vacation in France and made a gruesome discovery. He said when he opened the freezer in his kitchen, he found the frozen bodies of two babies, stuffed in plastic bags.

Courjault called the police and agreed to be interviewed. But before Korean authorities could finish their investigation, the Courjaults flew to France and have vowed never to return to Korea.

The South Koreans conducted their investigation and reportedly concluded that the babies' DNA was similar to that of Courjault's. The French expatriates, however, deny that allegation, and South Korean and French authorities have been arguing over a possible prosecution ever since.

So far, the French government has refused to help the Koreans. "We have no evidence against the Courjaults," Nicolas de Lacoste, spokesman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a telephone interview.

The Courjaults "are only witnesses in this case," added the couple's lawyer Marc Morin. Sylvie Pantz, deputy general prosecutor of the Orleans Tribunal in France, and in charge of the investigation, denounced the South Korean methods. "The Korean police had the bad taste to denounce Mr. Courjault before the investigation's result was known," she said.

South Korean papers jumped on the story, accusing the French couple of suspicious behavior. "In this case, there are some xenophobic elements and a media harassment against the Courjaults," said Morin. "The couple have no reason to come back to Korea."

The French justice system "is competent for crimes committed abroad," said Guillaume Didier, spokesman for the French Ministry of Justice. If found guilty, the couple could get life sentences in France.

The Korean investigation, conducted by a respected scientist, reportedly concluded that the couple were the parents of the frozen babies. But the Courjault's lawyer said this investigation has no legal value in France. He also questioned the accuracy of the DNA test, arguing that no samples had been taken from Veronique Courjault, the mother of two children, ages 9 and 11.

In addition, she underwent a hysterectomy in December 2003. The couple reportedly changed apartments between August 2002 and December 2003. If the babies belonged to the Courjaults, this means they would have been kept frozen for four years and moved from one freezer to another during the move.

But on the French side, not everyone is willing to defend the couple blindly. Some say there is no reason to cast doubt on the accuracy of the Korean investigation. "There is no distrust against the Korean justice," said Didier. "But we need to secure the procedure."

French authorities are conducting their own investigation in Tour, which is where the couple now lives. The Koreans reportedly sent the results of their investigation to France, along with DNA samples. But Pantz says she has not received the report, or the evidence.

Pantz also wondered why Mr. Courjault would call police if he was guilty of the murder of the babies. "The Courjaults may well be the parents, but the children may have been killed by somebody else -- we have no idea."

The investigation focused mainly on the affiliation between the babies and the Courjaults. But another major question remains unanswered: how these babies were killed and whether they ever lived. "The Korean autopsy has not established the cause of the death," Morin said. "The autopsy can only be done in Korea [and] that would mean sending French experts to Korea."

Pantz regrets that a lot of time has been wasted due to diplomatic discussions between the two countries. "The truth is slipping through our fingers," she said. "The press says the babies have been unfrozen and frozen again. If the Koreans did not find anything on the cause of the death in July 2006, do you think we will find something in December 2006?"

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