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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 08:09 GMT
Fears for couple seized in Laos
Vientiane
Mr Danes is detained in the capital Vientiane
The Australian Government has urged Laos to explain the arrests of an Australian couple who appear to be caught up in a wrangle over the ownership of a $100m sapphire mine.


Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he understood Kerry and Kay Danes would be charged with fraud but it was unclear on what grounds.

Mr Danes had been working as the managing director of a company providing security for the country's biggest sapphire mine, Gem Mining Lao (GML).

He was seized in his office in the capital, Vientiene, by Lao secret police on 23 December.

His wife was arrested the same day at the Thai border as she tried to leave with her two children and $50,000, according to reports.


We understand there are fraud charges that are going to be brought against them

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
The children, aged 11 and seven, were released and returned to Australia on Christmas Day.

Mr Danes had been living in Laos for two years while on extended leave from the Australian military's Special Air Service.

But Mr Downer rejected suggestions that the couple's detention was related to spying charges.

Fears

Australian consular officials have had no contact with Mr Danes, 42, since he was arrested last Friday, and none with Mrs Danes, 33, since Christmas Eve.

Downer
Mr Downer says couple may be charged with fraud
According to The Australian newspaper, Mrs Danes told her mother by mobile phone on Christmas Day: "Mum, I think by tomorrow I'll be dead."

Her father, Ernie Stewart, said a prison guard in Vientiane had relayed that Mr Danes was being treated badly and had been denied food and water for three days.

"There has been absolutely no contact with Kerry... we don't even know if he is alive," Mr Stewart added.

Gangsters

Bernie Jeppesen, the Danish founder of GML, said on Thursday he had fled Laos in May after government officials threatened him with imprisonment, torture and execution.

He said the Danes were innocent victims of an attempted takeover of GML by the officials.

"When we started showing them we were becoming successful, then, of course, the government stepped in with the backing of a lot of unsavoury characters from Bangkok," he added.

"I'm talking about Australians, Englishmen, Americans - a bunch of gangsters."

Washington-based Radio Free Asia has reported that the Lao Government has begun to nationalise GML on the grounds that its officers misappropriated funds.

Mr Jeppesen denies this and is reportedly preparing to sue the Lao Government through the US courts.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Laos' battle with poverty
02 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Laos marks 25 years of Communism
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