The truth behind Florence Cassez’s story lost in a corrupt Mexico


January 29, 2013

By Phillippe Diederich Mexico

French citizen Florence Cassez was arrested in 2005 and convicted of helping her Mexican then-boyfriend run a kidnap gang. A court ordered Cassez released because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest.

When a Mexican court released Florence Cassez, the French citizen who had been accused, convicted and imprisoned as part of a kidnapping ring in 2006, it set Mexicans in an uproar. For many, it was the same as releasing a major drug cartel leader, or a crooked politician. Despite the fact that the court had decided the evidence and the method of Florence Cassez’s arrest violated her rights, it didn’t matter to the public because this was Mexico. And Mexicans know you can’t trust the police, the judge or the politician. As a matter of fact, you can’t trust anyone. For most Mexicans, Cassez’s release smelled of fraud.

Mexico has long a history of crooked deals and corruption. Many cases have been won using torture and fake confessions, yet important crimes go unsolved. But for most Mexicans it seems the only ones immune to the corruption are the wealthy and foreigners.

A recent editorial cartoon in Mexico showed a lawyer pleading for his client’s case. The judge asked the lawyer where his client was from. When the lawyer mentioned a neighborhood in Mexico City, the judge told the lawyer his client was screwed.

Florence Cassez’s release one of many in Mexico

The law in Mexico is relative. Nobody trusts the powers that be. In March 1995, PRI presidential Candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was shot dead in Tijuana. There is a dramatic video of the shooting. But the man arrested and sentenced for the murder, Mario Aburto, claims he was tortured into the confession. The video shows a different looking man doing the shooting and being arrested. Even Colosio’s family does not believe Aburto killed the charismatic candidate.

Six months after Colosio’s assassination, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, former President Carlos Salinas’ brother-in-law and secretary general of the PRI, was murdered in Mexico City. Eventually, Salinas’s brother, Raul, was charged with the murder and sentenced to 27 years, but six years later he was pardoned and released. Nine years ago, another brother of Carlos Salinas, Enrique, was found dead in his car with a plastic bag wrapped around his head. The case remains unsolved.

But the Florence Cassez case is reminiscent of the Sofia Bassi case. Bassi was a beautiful Mexican socialite and painter who was convicted of killing her son-in-law, the count Cesare d’Acquarone, in Acapulco in 1966. Artists and intellectuals in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe came together to support Bassi, claiming Mexican authorities were corrupt and inefficient, and that the case was tainted. But the campaign backfired. Then Mexican President Diaz Ordaz stepped in, making this a personal cause. Diaz Ordaz was against Bassi and her supporters. He made sure she would not be pardoned, yet he allowed Bassi to live somewhat comfortably in the prison’s infirmary, receive visitors and paint.

Mexicans who followed the case of Florence Cassez are aware of all the irregularities in her case: The staged arrest, and the controversial testimony during the case. Typical Mexico. Last year members of the Mexican Supreme Court agreed that Cassez’s rights had been violated and Cassez was released from prison last week.

At the time of Cassez’s arrest, and the bust that brought Los Zodiacos—the kidnapping gang she was accused of being a member of—to justice, Mexico was experiencing an epidemic of kidnappings. Something had to be done. Many Mexicans were thrilled with the dramatic bust of the kidnapping ring, (brought to them live by Televisa and TV Azteca). Others viewed her arrest as a scapegoat for former President Felipe Calderon’s presidency.


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