Jailed potato farmer in limbo over letter dispute

A Canadian potato farmer jailed in Beirut for nine months remains in diplomatic limbo, with the federal government denying his lawyer's claims that a simple written request would bring him home.

Minister says Lebanon has not requested letter from Canada in Henk Tepper case

A Canadian potato farmer jailed in Beirut for nine months remains in diplomatic limbo, with the federal government denying his lawyer's claims that a simple written request would bring him home.

Lawyers for New Brunswick farmer Henk Tepper say Lebanon's foreign minister has told them a letter from Canada is all that is needed to secure Tepper's release.

But Canada says Lebanon has not asked for a letter.

Henk Tepper, 44, has been behind bars without charges since March. He's accused of forging paperwork over a shipment of potatoes to Algeria in 2007 and was arrested on an Interpol alert issued by Algeria.

Tepper's lawyer says Lebanese authorities told him it's up to Canada to initiate the release request.

Henk Tepper has been held in a Beirut jail since March. (Submitted photo)

But Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dianne Ablonczy told the House of Commons Wednesday that government officials and ministers have been in touch with "senior Lebanese officials" and Lebanon hasn't communicated this information to the Canadian government.

"The Lebanese government specifically dismisses the allegation that a simple letter would release Mr. Tepper and affirms that it must act in accordance with Lebanon's international obligations when faced with a request for extradition," Ablonczy said in question period, while expressing concern for Tepper and his family.

Tepper's lawyer, James Mockler, met with the Lebanese justice minister Tuesday and said he was told the case is no longer stuck in legal proceedings and Ottawa could intercede.

Mockler told CBC News he will do anything necessary to assist the federal government in drafting a letter to Lebanon.

New Brunswick Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc accused the government of dragging its feet.

"The government of Canada is either willfully blind to Mr. Tepper's horrible circumstances or grossly negligent or perhaps both" he said. They need to send a letter today, indicating they want him home."

Financial trouble

Adding to Tepper's problems is that his business in Canada is $11 million in debt. It's under protection from its creditors in a ruling that expires this week.

"This person is a Canadian, he's a New Brunswicker, the people of New Brunswick want him back. His family want him back," said NDP New Brunswick MP Yvon Godin. "It hurt his business and everything. This is totally unfair."

Mockler says after nine months in jail, Tepper is showing signs of emotional strain.

"He's beyond desperate. He needs to go home now. He needs assistance, as well. I believe that he needs psychological assistance," Mockler said.

Liberal Senators Pierrette Ringuette and Mac Harb have visited Tepper in jail with his lawyer and have called on the government to do more to bring him home to Canada.