A KABUL-based British hotelier and former BBC cameraman says that he acted as a go-between when a pounds 830,000 ransom was offered to secure the release of three UN workers kidnapped in Afghanistan. Peter Jouvenal made his disclosures after his arrest on Thursday by Afghan secret police investigating the kidnapping of Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Shqipe Habibi from Kosovo and Angelito Nayan from the Philippines. He was released after 19 hours of questioning. "I was involved in successfully negotiating their release," Mr Jouvenal said yesterday. "I got them out. I suppose I was a bit naive to expect any thanks for it." He has more than 20 years' experience in Afghanistan and, in October 2001, filmed John Simpson's The Liberation of Kabul for the BBC. He says that he offered the ransom through Afghan contacts on behalf of a millionaire Kosovan businessman, Behgjet Pacolli, 53, a relative of Shqipe Habibi.
"It was all through old mujaheddin contacts in Peshawar," said Mr Jouvenal, who travelled to Pakistan to set up the link. "At the end Mr Pacolli was prepared to pay $1.5million for their release. Initially he offered $1.2million and that was declined. The kidnappers said the Afghan government had already offered more." Mr Jouvenal said he did not know if any money had actually been paid but he added: "I am positive that Mr Pacolli was entirely responsible for their release." Mr Pacolli has denied that he paid any ransom. The three hostages were set free by their captors in mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The Afghan government has strenuously denied that any ransom or release of Taliban prisoners secured their release. They had been captive since Oct 28. Syed Akbar Agha, the leader of Jaish al-Muslimeen, a Taliban splinter group which claimed to hold the three, has said that the government agreed to release 24 Taliban prisoners for Miss Flanigan and Mr Nayan. He said that Miss Habibi was released after a personal plea by Mr Pacolli. After he was released from questioning, Mr Jouvenal said: "After 19 hours of questioning they tried to get me to sign a statement saying I was part of the kidnap gang." The Afghan government was officially responsible for all efforts to negotiate the release of the hostages but Mr Pacolli arrived a week into the crisis to undertake his own private rescue attempt. The son of a Kosovan farmer, Mr Pacolli acquired vast wealth from building contracts in Russia during the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr Jouvenal approached Mr Pacolli and offered his services as a go-between because of previous experience negotiating prisoner releases in Afghanistan. He is married to an Afghani and opened the Gandamak Lodge after the fall of the Taliban. It had previously been the home of Osama bin Laden's fourth wife and her family.