Victim Of A Dysfunctional System’: French Citizen Florence Cassez Released From Mexican Prison After Legal Missteps

Source: International Business Times

By

January 29 2013

The release of a French woman accused of being involved in a criminal organization and a kidnapping in Mexico has set off a wave of criticism against the Mexican justice system.

(Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)
Florence Cassez spent 7 years in a Mexican prison without ever being pronounced guilty.

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Florence Cassez, who was sentenced in 2007 to 60 years in prison on kidnapping charges, was released last Wednesday after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated.

Cassez was denied consular assistance for more than 24 hours after being arrested, in violation of the Vienna Convention, and was forced by Mexican authorities to re-enact her arrest on live television during that period.

The first violation was grounds enough to throw out Cassez’s case, with the second instance casting further doubt on the fairness of her trial due to its disregard for her presumption of innocence.

“[My release] is a great victory for Mexicans,” Cassez told reporters after her release, according to the BBC.

Cassez has maintained her innocence over the past seven years, saying she was unaware of the three hostages being held at a ranch where she was staying with her then-boyfriend in 2005.

Despite the legal missteps in her case and Cassez’s repeated claims of innocence, many in Mexico have protested her release, viewing it as a miscarriage of justice and an instance of preferential treatment for a foreigner.

“We are a disgusting country,” said Ezequiel Elizalde, who was previously kidnapped by “The Zodiacs” gang, of which Cassez was accused of links, the BBC reported. “”Must we now walk around carrying arms like vigilantes?”

Cassez was welcomed back in France, where she met with President Francois Hollande, whose government had lobbied for her release, carrying on efforts taken up by the previous administration of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cassez said she understood some people’s frustration with her release, but maintains that she was a “victim” of a dysfunctional justice system.

“It is clear that the Cassez case is only a symptom of a police and judicial system which is showing major cracks and is in profound need of repair,” wrote legal expert Miguel Carbonell of the Autonomous University in Mexico City, the BBC reported.

“Florence Cassez may now be safe from this dysfunctional system, but more than 110 million Mexicans continue to be exposed to all manner of mistreatment at the hands of the police, the public prosecutors and the judges, either as victims of crime or as the accused,” he added.

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

From: VOXXI

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.

 

Mexican Court Frees Woman Imprisoned in (alleged) Kidnapping

From : New York Times
By ELISABETH MALKIN
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

Mexico’s top court mulls jailed Frenchwoman’s fate

From Expatica

January, 22nd 2013

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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.”

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.

 

Justice for Florence Cassez – Human rights activists demand justice in Cassez case

Source: Proceso December 12, 2012

Activists, academics, human rights proponents have published a spread in several newspapers demanding justice in the case against Florence Cassez, who was detained, jailed and condemned to 60 years in prison.

“The accusations against her were based on indefensible proofs, logically and juridically speaking. Also, Florence Cassez was violated in her right to receive a due process, leaving her in a state of defenselessness and proofs were fabricated against her from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (AFI) and the Federal Agency for Public Safety (SSPF),” cites the published document.

The spread was published in several nationwide newspapers are was signed by: Mariclaire Acosta, Director of Freedom House; José Antonio Caballero, researcher, CIDE; Miguel Carbonel, from the Institute of Legal Research at UNAM; and human rights activists Eduardo Gallo, Santiago Corcuera y Javier Sicilia, among others.

“The 60 year sentence against Florence Cassez is not based on proofs or facts that show her culpability beyond all reasonable doubt. It is a real shame for Mexican justice that she continues to be imprisoned.
We urge our Supreme Court to dictate soon the resolution than will put this grave injustice to an end,” says the documents.

Translation

Pierre Lacour
fearlessfathers.wordpress.com

At Bompard Trophy, Florence Cassez Was on Everybody’s Mind

From the French RTL

November, 17th 2012

Translation : Pierre Lacour

To celebrate Florence Cassez’s 30th birthday, the Bompard Trophy of figure skating, in Paris’ 12th arrondissement, decided to dedicate this year’s edition to Florence. Many celebrities- among them Nelson Montfort, Laura Flessel and the Mayor of Orleans, Serge Grouard, attended to show their support for Florence and her parents.

Sentenced to 60 Years in Jail

“We haven’t noticed any difference between President Sarkozy’s action and that of President Hollande,” said Charlotte Cassez at the Bompard Trophy of figure skating in Paris-Bercy; the Trophy’s organizers had indeed dedicated the 2012 edition to her daughter.

An ultimate appeal is currently under examination by the Mexican Supreme Court, which in March rejected a motion to release Florence, although the majority of the five justices had noted significant violations of defense rights during her trial.

 

Charlotte Cassez: ”This rally in support of Florence, that’s something!”

Charlotte Cassez said: “We called Florence last night [Friday]… she is not doing too bad. There are many demonstrations to support her now; people are showing up. The ice sports’ association is the first to take action; that’s something. All this is going the right way.”

Along with the President of the French Association of Ice Sport, Didier Gailhaguet, were several politicians, among them Serge Grouard, the mayor (UMP – Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, center right) of Orléans, the city where Florence Cassez’ parents live, and sport personalities, including Laura Flessel, two-time fencing Olympic champion and flag bearer of the French delegation to the last London Olympics.

 

The Florence Cassez Affair

On April 18 2010, the Mexican justice released a 2007 document proving that Florence Cassez’ public detention was “remade” for TV cameras. As a result, the Mexican Supreme Court accepted to review Cassez trial. On March 21, 2012, the Supreme Court was to decide about setting Florence free.

On June 22 2009, Mexican President Felipe Calderón refused to transfer Florence Cassez to a French prison. Florence was then moved to Santa Marta, a prison known for being tougher.

Incarcerated since 2005, Florence Cassez was sentenced on April 27 2008 to 96 years in jail for kidnapping. Heard on appeal, this sentence was reduced to 60 years on March 3, 2009.

As she went to Mexico to be with her brother who works there, Florence –then 29- met with Israel Vallarta in 2004 and settled down in his ranch. On December 8, 2005, they were detained near Mexico, as Vallarta is suspected to be part of a group of kidnappers. Their detention was re-enacted for Mexican TV.

 

 

 

France’s first lady sends chocolates to Florence Cassez in Mexican jail

Source : The Guardian

Monday 8 October 2012
Florence Cassez

Florence Cassez was jailed for 60 years in 2009 after being convicted of being part of a kidnapping gang. Photograph: AFP

France’s first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, has used diplomatic channels to send presents to a French woman who was jailed for 60 years in Mexico after being convicted of kidnapping.

Books, beauty products and chocolates were sent to Florence Cassez in jail last week, according to Le Parisien newspaper, which says Trierweiler will send a similar parcel every month until she is freed.

Struggling to find a role in a position that does not formally exist, Trierweiler’s choice of worthy cause will find favour in France, where Cassez is widely viewed as a victim of Mexican injustice. Even the opposition will find it hard to criticise her choice; the former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s public support of Cassez triggered a diplomatic spat between France and Mexico.

“It’s a precious gesture that Florence much appreciated,” Jean-Luc Romero, president of Cassez’s support committee. “Pressure from the Elysée is important. It shows that France is still behind her and hasn’t dropped her. She has been through difficult times recently.”

Cassez, 37, was sentenced to 60 years in jail in 2009 for taking part in kidnappings, associating with criminals and being in possession of illegal weapon. She has always maintained her innocence.

Cassez was arrested in 2005 with her then boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, head of a notorious kidnapping gang. The long-running legal battle centres on how police handled the arrest and on evidence from kidnap victims who were blindfolded and never saw their captors, but claimed to have recognised Cassez’s voice.

Sarkozy made her plight a cause célèbre, regularly telephoning her. But his blistering criticism of the Mexican authorities and decision in 2011 to “dedicate” a joint cultural year to Cassez led to Mexico pulling out of the event and a diplomatic crisis.

His Elysée successor, François Hollande, who has spoken to Cassez’ parents by telephone “several times” according to reports, is determined to be more subtle, believing insulting the Mexican legal system will not help free her.

A French diplomat in Mexico said Paris had decided to “go carefully” and let Mexican justice do its work. “Any new attempt at pressure will be very badly seen. We have to treat lightly,” the diplomat said.

Romero, who accompanied the French president to Mexico for the meeting of G20 leaders in June, added: “Hollande asked us what was the best way to proceed to avoid anything that might be seen as a provocation. We have learned the lesson.”

In March, Mexico’s supreme court ruled 3-2 against releasing Cassez, but agreed to study her appeal after admitting her rights had been violated and claims of irregularities in her trial. It is expected to make a final decision whether to uphold or quash Cassez’s conviction, or order a retrial, early in 2013.

Cassez’s French lawyer, Frank Berton, has called the situation “a massive judicial impasse”. In Mexico, where kidnappings by criminal gangs are common, her case elicits little public sympathy and relatives of the kidnap victims have expressed outrage at her “special treatment” and possible release.

Trierweiler’s involvement has unfortunate echoes of the former first lady Cécilia Sarkozy’s trip to Libya in 2007 to save a group of Bulgarian nurses jailed under Muammar Gaddafi. Nicolas Sarkozy claimed the release was a great success while European Union officials who had been working behind the scenes to secure the nurses’ release accused the then French president of taking the credit for their work.

Cassez’s family and supporters hope Hollande will raise her case when he receives Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto, who takes up office in December, at the Elysée next week. At the same time, Trierweiler will have lunch with the Mexican first lady, Angélica Rivera.

Read also : BBC News

French band performing a song with lyrics penned by Florence Cassez

Mexican justice says Cassez case decision coming in August

Fox News Latino

May 31, 2012

Mexican Supreme Court justice Olga Sanchez Cordero said in a television interview broadcast here Thursday that the case of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping in Mexico, will be decided in August.

Sanchez Cordero also reiterated in her remarks to French news channel BFMTV that she believes Cassez’s rights were violated by Mexican authorities and that, as a consequence, she should be set free.

“The matter will surely be resolved before the second half of August,” the justice said.

On March 21, she was one of two Supreme Court justices who supported a motion to immediately free Cassez. The other three justices rejected the motion, although the five-judge panel found serious rights violations in her trial and called for the evidence in her case to be reviewed.

Cassez was arrested on Dec. 8, 2005, on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway along with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, the suspected leader of the Los Zodiaco kidnapping gang.

A day later, agents from the now-defunct AFI, Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, staged a mock raid so TV cameras could film the arrest of the gang members in a wooded area near Mexico City.

The motion presented to the high court in March stated that the delay in handing Cassez, now 37, over to prosecutors and informing the French Consulate of her arrest violated her rights.

The Frenchwoman has proclaimed her innocence from the beginning, denying that she participated in kidnappings, and the case has sparked tensions between Mexico and France.

Polls in Mexico, which suffers one of the world’s highest kidnapping rates, show most people want Cassez to remain in prison.