After more than a year in a Lebanese jail, Henk Tepper is finally home.
The New Brunswick potato farmer looked drained but otherwise none the worse for wear as he was reunited with his family Saturday afternoon at the Ottawa airport.
“I'm happy to be home,” he told a throng of reporters as he left the customs area. He said little else during a makeshift news conference outside an airport lounge, where he had spent his first hour back home with family members.
His lawyers asked reporters for privacy, and said they would have more to say to the media on Monday.
Mr. Tepper, who is in his mid-40s and from Drummond, N.B., has been in custody in Beirut since March 23 of last year.
He was picked up on an international arrest warrant on allegations he exported rotten potatoes to Algeria in 2007 and forged export documents.
A source close to Mr. Tepper says an Interpol red notice issued by Algeria remains in effect and the notice says he could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the allegations.
Mr. Tepper has been in a legal limbo because he was being held on the Interpol notice by the Lebanese government, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with Algeria.
Algeria also alleges that Mr. Tepper forged documents related to the export of potatoes from Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
Mr. Tepper's lawyers have denied all of the allegations, saying the potatoes were inspected in Canada before shipment and met Algerian standards.
Mr. Tepper was arrested in Lebanon when he travelled to the Middle East on an agricultural trade mission to promote seed potatoes from Atlantic Canada.
Over the past year, Mr. Tepper's lawyers and family have expressed concerns about his deteriorating health.
Mr. Tepper's family and Liberal politicians have criticized Ottawa's efforts in the past to have him returned to Canada, accusing the federal government of not doing enough to bring him home. A number of public appeals and meetings were held to push for his return home.
Diane Ablonczy, Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs, issued a statement Saturday that says the federal government has been working behind the scenes to get Mr. 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.”
Ms. Ablonczy's office also released the most recent letter she sent to Lebanon's minister of foreign affairs pushing for Mr. Tepper's release on compassionate grounds.
“While I appreciate the independence of the judicial process in Lebanon, given the length of time that Mr. Tepper has already spent in detention, his deteriorating health condition, as well as compassionate considerations, I hope that we can find a timely solution that will be satisfactory for both our countries and will allow for Mr. Tepper's return to Canada,” Ablonczy wrote in the letter dated March 20.
“I welcome your guidance and advice on how to best advance the case of Mr. Tepper.”
Ms. Ringuette says Tepper is being accompanied on his return to Canada by his lawyers, Jim Mockler and Joe Karam.
The family owns Tobique Farms in Drummond. News reports have said it is one of the largest potato producers in the province and Tepper exports to Cuba, Venezuela, Lebanon and Algeria.
Premier David Alward, a former agriculture minister who has a farm in western New Brunswick and knows Tepper, said he has been active in building the province's potato exports.
“I couldn't be more pleased or relieved for Henk and for his family. There's been a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes for a long time by government consular officials. I'm certainly pleased that his ordeal is over,” Mr. Alward said in an interview.
“He's a down-to-earth guy. He's a businessman. He's a hard working individual. When I was minister we had an opportunity to participate in some trade missions together. He's been one of the potato producers in New Brunswick that has been most focused on building export markets, and this is a huge relief to the whole industry. We're glad to know he's coming home.”
Follow us on Twitter: