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Ex-hostage could face massive bill

Who should pay for dramatic rescues? Werner Greiner, who returned to Switzerland on Tuesday after being held for six months in Mali, is hoping it's not the victim.

However, the government has revealed that its SFr300,000 ($275,000) budget for "consular protection" has been drained by recent kidnappings and it is discussing whether hostages or tour operators should pay for the "supplementary loan".

Greiner's case has also raised the issues of self-responsibility and of kidnap and ransom insurance.

"This operation obviously cost more than foreseen, but I think it's up to the authorities of Switzerland and Mali to find an appropriate solution," Stephan Müller from the Touring Club of Switzerland told swissinfo.ch.

"I personally don't think it's good that a victim of a hijacking comes home and hears in the media that he should contribute to the rescue costs."

Werner and Gabriella Greiner were abducted along with a German woman and a British man on January 22 while visiting a Tuarag tribe festival near to the border of Niger. They were driven into Niger by a group that called itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).

The extremists released Gabriella and the German woman in April, but later claimed they had executed the British hostage and threatened to kill Werner Greiner.

On Monday both husband and wife thanked the Swiss authorities for their "professionalism" and "hard work" in securing their release. The crisis management group dealing with the case in Bern and in the Malian capital, Bamako, comprised up to 50 people.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey denied Switzerland had paid ransom money despite some press reports suggesting otherwise. "Switzerland never pays ransoms," she said.

Governments rarely if ever confirm money has changed hands, but analysts say Westerners taken hostage in the Sahara have in the past been freed after substantial sums have been handed over.


"What needs to be clarified is whether the victims or the tour operator or anyone else can justifiably be accused of negligence or carelessness," Urs Schwaller, a parliamentarian for the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, told swissinfo.ch.

"But this question can be applied to every rescue action, whether it's in the mountains or at sea or wherever."

Indeed, similar debates are held in Switzerland whenever a mountain climber gets stuck and needs to be rescued, often at considerable expense.

Schwaller finds it "irresponsible" for further trips to be offered to such risky places. If this were the case, he added, travel agents should bear the financial responsibility.

In 2003, when four Swiss were freed in Algeria having been held for six months, the travel insurance paid the foreign ministry SFr65,500 per hostage.

"Mr Greiner went on this trip six months ago, but if someone decided to go on such a trip now, in the middle of July, I'd struggle to understand why the government should be expected to carry the costs of any rescue action," he said.

"If you walk across a frozen lake, then you're doing it at your own risk. If you know that the danger in a case is very real, then I think it's irresponsible to offer, or indeed undertake, such trips."

For his part, Müller of the Touring Club called for more self-responsibility. "I also appeal to any tour operator and any potential traveller to consult the foreign ministry's website, which tells you how dangerous your destination is."

Professional risk

Walter Kunz, head of the Swiss association of travel agencies, agrees. "People who go off into danger zones should pay for the consequences themselves," he told swissinfo.ch.

"Normally, if the foreign ministry warns against a certain area but a client still wants to go, he has to pay the costs for repatriation himself. I personally don't know any serious tour operator in Switzerland offering Sahara trips to Mali – although someone probably is."

But Kunz points out that if someone goes to a high-risk area for business, working for example for the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières, that's different. "They are doing their job. They are risking their lives and in that case I personally think that should be paid by the government."

In April Islamic rebels in the Philippines freed Andreas Notter, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who had spent 93 days in captivity.

Kidnap insurance

When it comes to kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance, Swiss insurers are behind the big international firms such as Aon and Hiscox.

Indeed, as far as Müller is aware, no Swiss companies even offer K&R insurance.

"I don't think it makes sense," he said. "I wouldn't feel safer if I had [K&R insurance]. So I'm kidnapped and they kill me – do they pay for the transport of my coffin?"

K&R insurance has long been regarded with scepticism. In the 1980s British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even carried out an investigation into the sector, concerned that it not only encouraged policy holders to pay up, but also that they would be less cautious about how much they paid knowing they would be reimbursed.

This, she argued, would lead to more frequent and higher ransom payments.

This is academic, as Werner Greiner didn't have kidnap and ransom cover. But it highlights the difficulty, if not impossibility, of getting black and white answers when dealing with risk – and who should pay when things go wrong.

"Where would the industry end up if we insured everything?" Müller said. "Life's a risky business."

Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch

Kidnap and ransom insurance

Kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance is designed to protect individuals and corporations operating in high-risk areas around the world. Policies typically cover kidnap, extortion, wrongful detention and hijacking.

K&R policies do not pay ransoms on behalf of the insured. The insured must first pay the ransom, thus incurring the loss, and then seek reimbursement under the policy. Losses typically reimbursed by K&R polices are ransom payments, loss-of-ransom-in-transit and additional expenses, such as medical costs.

Specifically, a policy may cover and/or provide: a crisis response team and professional advice; medical expenses, including psychiatric expenses and expenses for rest and relaxation and cosmetic or plastic surgery after release; loss due to injury (mutilation, loss of fingers, total disability); time away from work after release; travel expenses; a reward paid to informants leading to the arrest and conviction of responsible parties.



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