A news report in London Monday says France, Germany and Italy have paid $45 million for the release of hostages kidnapped in Iraq.
The British newspaper "The Times" says its information comes from documents held by security officials in Baghdad who have played a crucial role in hostage negotiations during the past two years.
France is said to have paid $25 million for the release of three hostages -- Georges Malbrunot in December 2004, and Florence Aubenas and Christian Chesnot in June 2005.
"The Times" says Italy handed over $11 million to win freedom for three hostages -- Simona Pari, Simona Toretta and Giuliana Sgrena -- since 2004. Germany is reported to have paid $8 million to secure the release of three hostages, including Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, who were freed earlier this month.
All three countries have publicly denied paying any ransom money to kidnappers to gain their citizens' release. France repeated its denial Monday following the Times report.
The newspaper reports that governments in Turkey, Romania, Sweden and Jordan also are believed to have paid ransoms.
"The Times" says several (unnamed) American firms with lucrative reconstruction contracts have engaged in similar practices in Iraq. In most cases such payments are listed as "expenses" incurred by go-betweens (intermediaries) who arrange the release of hostages.