Mexico’s top court mulls jailed Frenchwoman’s fate

From Expatica

January, 22nd 2013


Mexico’s Supreme Court will decide Wednesday whether to give a path to freedom to a Frenchwoman serving a 60-year prison sentence for kidnapping, in a case that strained diplomatic ties.

Florence Cassez, 38, has claimed her innocence ever since federal police staged her arrest in an operation shown live on national television seven years ago on December 9, 2005.

Cassez was accused of being involved with a gang of kidnappers known as the Zodiacs, allegedly run by her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta.

Mexican television showed police storming Vallarta’s ranch, where they arrested her and freed three hostages.

Interviewed on the spot by Televisa, the slight, red-haired woman looked stunned as she said: “I have nothing to do with this. I’m not his wife. I didn’t know anything!”

It was later revealed that Cassez had been arrested on a road hours before the raid.

Supreme Court Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero proposed this month that the top court cancel the sentence and send the case back to the court of appeals, which would be obligated to take into account the higher court’s conclusions in its new ruling.

According to Mexican media, Sanchez argued that the staged arrest was a violation of several constitutional rights, including presumption of innocence and consular protection.

Sanchez also wants most of the evidence thrown out, including the testimony of two of the kidnap victims, Cristina Rios Valladares and her son Christian Hilario Ramirez Rios, who mentioned Cassez for the first time two months after the operation (and after the fake rescue operation staged by the federal police had been revealed)

Her Mexican attorney, Agustin Acosta, said the appeals court would not have a deadline to rule but that it “should not take very long.”

“If the Supreme Court cancels her sentence, it would have to take into account the fact that she is a young woman who has already been in prison for seven years in the context of a sentence that was declared wrongful,” Acosta told AFP.

The lawyer said the court may also decide to order Cassez’s immediate release if a majority of justices vote that way. But a deadlock could send the case up to the full 11-member Supreme Court, where a decision would be less predictable.

The Supreme Court already examined her case last year, but the panel was split on whether to release her, even though four of the five justices them agreed that there were irregularities in the case.

Her treatment caused a diplomatic spat in February 2011, when Mexican authorities canceled a “Year of Mexico” cultural event in France after then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to dedicate the festivities to Cassez.

After meeting with Mexico’s new President Enrique Pena Nieto in October, his French counterpart Francois Hollande said that he was confident the Supreme Court would “put an end to this painful situation.”