N.B. farmer jailed in Lebanon arrives in Ottawa
Published Saturday, March 31, 2012 11:36PM EDT
A New Brunswick farmer jailed in Lebanon for more than a year for allegedly selling rotten potatoes in Algeria has arrived back in Canada.
Henk Tepper, 44, arrived at Ottawa's airport Saturday afternoon and was greeted by his family.
"I'm happy to be home, and that's all I can say," Tepper told a waiting throng of journalists before being whisked to a lounge within the airport.
Tepper, 44, from Drummond, N.B., has been in custody in Beirut since March 23 of last year on an international arrest warrant alleging he shipped rotten potatoes to Algeria in 2007 and forged export documents.
Tepper's lawyers have denied the allegations, saying the potatoes were inspected in Canada before shipment and met Algerian standards.
A source close to Tepper said the Interpol notice remains in effect. It states Tepper could still face up to five years in jail if found guilty.
Algeria and Lebanon don't have an extradition treaty, which left Tepper in legal limbo.
Tepper's sister, Harmien Dionne, read a statement to reporters on behalf of the family Saturday.
Dionne thanked the Canadian public, "who have kept us in their thoughts and prayers," as well as citizens of Beirut who rallied to Tepper's cause.
She also thanked the "team" that has worked for Tepper's release, including his lawyers, Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, and Senators Pierrette Ringuette and Mac Harb.
Dionne asked that the media respect the family's privacy until Tepper is ready to speak about his ordeal.
"The most important thing right now is Henk, for Henk to be spending time with his family and to heal," she said.
Tepper's lawyers and family had expressed concerns about his deteriorating health since he was jailed.
"I would imagine having spent time inside a very small Lebanese jail that (Tepper's) physical well being and his mental well being are to be questioned," CTV Atlantic's Andy Campbell told CTV News Channel Saturday.
"The family was very concerned . . . his sister made a number of trips to visit him in Lebanon. They were very concerned, particularly (for) his mental well being, so all of those things will need to be addressed," he said.
The family owns Tobique Farms in Drummond, one of the largest potato producers in the province. Tepper exports to Cuba, Venezuela, Lebanon and Algeria, news reports say.
Tepper was arrested in Lebanon when he travelled to the Middle East on an agricultural trade mission to promote seed potatoes from Atlantic Canada.
His family and supporters have criticized Ottawa's efforts to have him returned to Canada, accusing the federal government of not doing enough.
A number of public rallies and meetings were held to push for his return.
Diane Ablonczy, Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs, said in a statement Saturday the federal government has been working behind the scenes to get Tepper released.
"Our government has been quietly and persistently working through diplomatic channels to resolve his situation," she said.
"Canada's ambassador to Lebanon and consular officials displayed an unwavering commitment to assist Mr. Tepper. Canada is also appreciative of the responsiveness of our partners in Lebanon."
Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the party was "happy" to hear of Tepper's release.
"I would like to congratulate Mr. Tepper for his courage and determination, and his family and friends for showing such dignity and bravery during Mr. Tepper's imprisonment and for their enduring commitment to his release," Rae said in a statement.
With files from The Canadian Press