POLITICS

Family of jailed farmer accused of exporting rotten potatoes thanks public

03/21/2012 09:34 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT
FREDERICTON - A year after Henk Tepper was jailed in Lebanon on accusations he exported rotten potatoes, the Canadian farmer's family is thanking the public for its support, saying it has helped them remain strong through the ordeal.

The Drummond, N.B., man has been in custody in Beirut since March 23 last year on an international arrest warrant on allegations he exported rotten potatoes to Algeria in 2007.

Algeria also alleges that Tepper forged documents related to the export of potatoes from Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

Tepper's lawyers have denied all of the allegations, saying the potatoes were inspected in Canada before shipment and met Algerian standards.

In a statement Wednesday, the family said they appreciate that people have kept Tepper in their thoughts and prayers.

"During this difficult year of birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and Christmas without Henk, we have been able to remain strong as a family due to the love and support of friends and strangers alike," they said.

"For this, our most sincere thank you."

The family has held public rallies calling for Tepper's release, but declined interview requests Wednesday, as did his lawyer.

"We also want to thank everyone for respecting our privacy. There will be an appropriate time to speak and we hope that time comes soon."

Tepper's family has criticized Ottawa's efforts in the past to have Tepper return to Canada, accusing the federal government of not doing enough to bring him home.

But Diane Ablonczy, Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs, said Wednesday the federal government is working with its diplomatic partners to help secure Tepper's release.

"Canada's efforts will not cease until Mr. Tepper is home," she said in a statement.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward said his thoughts are with Tepper's loved ones.

"All of our hearts go out to Henk Tepper and his family," Alward said in an interview.

"The impact that the last year has had on him, on his family and on their operation ... none of us can know what they've gone through."

He said he's confident Ottawa is doing everything it can.

"We know that the federal ministers are advocating at the very highest levels of government in Lebanon for Mr. Tepper's release and we continue to push to ensure that happens as well," Alward said.

Alward and Tepper both have farms in western New Brunswick and travelled on trade missions together when Alward was the province's agriculture minister under the previous Bernard Lord government.

Tepper could face up to five years in prison if convicted in Algeria, according to the Interpol Red Notice that was issued for his arrest last year.