Mexican Court Frees Woman Imprisoned in (alleged) Kidnapping

From : New York Times
Published: January 23, 2013

MEXICO CITY — A Supreme Court panel in Mexico voted Wednesday to free a French woman serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, ending a case that has become emblematic of problems in the country’s opaque justice system and that has strained relations with France.

In voting 3-2 to free the woman, Florence Cassez, 38, the magistrates did not address whether she was guilty or innocent. What was clear, they said, was that her rights had been violated by a televised broadcast of what appeared to be her arrest and the liberation of three kidnapping victims at a ranch outside Mexico City in December 2005.

Authorities later acknowledged that the raid was staged, and that Ms. Cassez and her boyfriend at the time, Israel Vallarta, had been arrested the day before on a highway. They were held while the police set up the supposed raid, which was broadcast on national television.

Three kidnapping victims testified against her. But their testimony was inconsistent and two of them did not identify her at first.

She was released Wednesday night and left the country on a late-night flight for Paris, according to The Associated Press. Ms. Cassez’s plight had been portrayed by the French news media as the tale of an innocent woman imprisoned in a corrupt legal system.

Visiting French cabinet ministers came to see her in her cell. Carla Bruni, the former first lady of France, and Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of President François Hollande, sent gifts.

After the ruling, Mr. Hollande, in a televised statement, said, “Today we can say that between France and Mexico we have the best relations that can be established,” Reuters reported.

President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico said he would respect the Supreme Court’s decision. Mr. Vallarta’s case is still being decided in the courts, according to local news media reports. The episode set off an impassioned debate in Mexico. Reflecting widespread desperation over the authorities’ frequent failure to investigate crimes fully, victims’ rights groups argued that the testimony that convicted Ms. Cassez could not just be thrown out.

“Should a failure in the form leave aside the substance: if a person is guilty or not?” Maria Elena Morera, a respected anticrime activist, wrote in the site Animal Politico this week.

But scholars and civil rights groups said that the case represented the problems with a judicial system where witness testimony, often coerced, frequently substitutes for physical evidence and adequate investigation.

“Today anybody can be the victim of a process that is plagued by bad practices from the start,” Federico Reyes Heroles, an author, wrote in the newspaper Reforma.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Miguel Carbonell, a constitutional lawyer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, wrote on Twitter: “One thing is clear to everybody: the Mexican judicial system urgently needs improvement.”

Other articles : Herald Sun ; The Australian ; Global Post

Cassez case: “The Case Went Back to the Court”

Translated from spanish  El Universal

By Ana Abinarte – translation: Pierre Lacour

January, 13th 2013


David Bertet, President of the Florence Cassez Association for the Defense of Human Rights, foresees that on January 23, when the First Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Nation cast its vote on Justice Olga Sanchez’s new proposal on Florence Cassez’ case -the French woman who was sentenced to 60 years in jail for kidnapping, organized crime and illegal possession of weapons- the five justices will let her free, and they will not be submitted to the pressure of the executive power.

Bertet considers that the situation is now different from that of last March, when [President] Felipe Calderón was in power and the project of Arturo Zaldívar to appeal for legal protection and to free her immediately, due to the constitutional violations to her detention and to the legal process, did not succeed, thanks to the pressure of the government.

“We have now a new situation, and what’s new is that Felipe Calderón is not here anymore. His henchmen, including the Director of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI), Genaro García Luna, and Luis Cárdenas Palomino, are no longer part of the administration. We believe this will help Florence, because there will not be any pressure on the Supreme Court from [President] Enrique Peña Nieto, as there was during the Calderón administration,” said Bertet in a phone interview from Montréal (Canada.)

According to Bertet, “Mexico’s current President wants the Cassez’ case to be solved in the High Court, while Felipe Calderón did not want Florence to go back to [France] and did everything in his power to make sure it did not happen.”

Bertet also considers that as far as the French government –under socialist François Hollande- is concerned, there is no interference in the case and members of the government have stated that [Mexico’s] Supreme Court ought to do its work.

“It is true that François Hollande and Valérie Trieweiler have supported Florence as they did so for other prisoners jailed outside of France; they have done so in a more discrete manner and without prompting controversies as did Sarkozy,” added Bertet.

He said: “I think the case went back to Court, from where it should not have gone out…” and it is no longer a political and diplomatic problem between Mexico and France, but a judicial case.”


“Florence is calm”

Bertet has been a friend of Florence’s for a long time, and he talks to her several times a week. The last time was a few days ago, when she herself brought the topic of Olga Sanchez’s new project into the discussion, a project that purports to “review” her case, and could entail a new sentence that could be freedom.

“She is calm. I talked to her last week. She did not know yet the date of the trial; I found her very calm and confident that everything will turn out well,” Bertet explained.

About the new project of Olga Sanchez Cordero, Bertet said that she is seeking a compromise. “Setting her free would be right, as Justice Zaldívar requested it last time, but the judges did not favor voting for that option and the project did not move forward.”

“Now, we believe that the Sanchez Cordero’s option, which is similar to the previous request, is the right one,” he added.