Parents of Frenchwoman Cassez confident Mexico will free her

Reuters

By Elinor Comlay

MEXICO CITY

Tue May 22, 2012

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The parents of a Frenchwoman imprisoned in Mexico for kidnapping said on Tuesday they are optimistic the Supreme Court will free her after reviewing the case that has caused a diplomatic rift between France and Mexico.

Florence Cassez, 37, has maintained she is innocent since her arrest in 2005, but the Mexican government has defended the conviction that sentenced her to 60 years in prison.

France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy backed Cassez’s fight to be freed and her parents said the Socialist party of his newly elected successor, Francois Hollande, has assured them he will work for her release.

In March, Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected a bid to release Cassez but opened the door to reviewing the evidence in her trial, which has given hope to her parents.

“We have great confidence in the Supreme Court,” Charlotte Cassez told Reuters in Mexico City, where she and her husband Bernard were visiting Florence and meeting her lawyers.

“The judges said they are in favor of a review of the case because her constitutional rights were violated.”

Florence Cassez was arrested in December 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City with her ex-boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, who was accused of heading a kidnapping gang called the Zodiacs.

After the arrest, police, instead of first taking her to a prosecutor or advising the French Consulate, forced Cassez to take part in a staged scene of officers freeing kidnap victims in a different location. The Frenchwoman was portrayed as a kidnapper in the restaged event, which was aired on national television. Police have since admitted their wrongdoing.

A judge convicted Cassez in 2008 after a closed-door trial with no jury, typical of cases in Mexico. Key evidence in her conviction was supplied by three kidnapping victims, one of whom said she had threatened to cut off his finger.

All but one of Mexico’s five Supreme Court judges in March picked holes in the legal process that convicted Cassez, but three of them voted against freeing her.

Nevertheless, Judge Olga Sanchez, who is in charge of reviewing the case, told a newspaper earlier this month she believed the Frenchwoman should be freed.

Florence and Bernard Cassez said they are also hopeful a change in Mexico’s government after presidential elections on July 1 could help bring about their daughter’s release.

Polls show the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is likely to oust President Felipe Calderon’s conservative National Action Party after 12 years in office. Calderon is barred by law from seeking a second term, and PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto is strong favorite to win the election.

“The current government put pressure on the courts … perhaps the next government will not do that,” said Charlotte Cassez.

Anti-crime groups in Mexico have opposed freeing Cassez, saying it would be an insult to the victims of kidnapping in a nation where many of the guilty go unpunished.

Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping.

Cassez is being held at a women’s prison in southern Mexico City where her parents visit daily when they are in Mexico.

Florence Cassez:The Freedom of Innocence in Jail

January 13, 2012

Published in http://fearlessfathers.wordpress.com/

On Sunday January 8, 2012, I met Florence Cassez, the French women who has been sentenced to serve sixty years in prison by the Mexican justice for the crimes of  kidnapping and organized crime she did not commit.  As I was carrying the  grilled chicken Florence had asked me to bring for lunch, heading toward the Centro Feminil de Readaptacion Social (South of Mexico City) where she is incarcerated, I was still struggling with the thought that had started to bug me since Florence had accepted my request to visit her, three days before: I am no journalist, no lawyer, and therefore I could not be of much help to her.

I know I will not sleep much until she is freed, but I also know now she does not need my help that much. The first thing I found out last Sunday is that she has been helping herself amazingly well given what she has gone through. Before meeting her, I had in mind the image of Florence in shock during the AFI’s remake of her arrestation for the Mexican TV, on December 9 2005. The Florence Cassez I see after passing security, as I step into the large room where a crowd of inmates are meeting and eating with their visitors, has nothing to do with that.  She is a rather tall women with an intense and reflective gaze. She graciously introduces me to her two other visitors, among whom David Bertet, who manages the Canadian Committee in Support of Florence. I quickly discover she has guts. Indeed, as I am telling her I did not understand why the Mexican government  (Mexico is a signat0ry of the 1983 Strasbourg convention on the transfer of sentenced persons) has been dragging its feet to repatriate Florence to France while invoking the incompatibility of the French thirty-year maximum jail sentence with Florence’s, she brushes away this option. Repatriation? No Sir. She did not want that. Doing time in France meant acknowledging she was guilty. She is innocent. Florence wants the Cassez’s case to be cleared in Mexico. She is fully aware that if it were to happen, it would have wide implications for the working of the Mexican justice system, and for the lot of those Mexican whose rights are violated and who, like her, rot in jail thanks to flawed or made-up accusations of kidnapping.

As the discussion unfolds around lunch, I cannot but notice with immense pleasure that it is interrupted many times. Florence is not at all ostracized as I was fearing. On the contrary, she is a popular figure here. Folks want to chat with her. She keeps getting up, keeps leaving the table to check hands or hug people. David Bertet told me aside that her humility, her acceptance of the rules of the jail, has earned her the respect of the inmates and that of the prison’s authorities. According to Florence, it has not always been like that; President Sarkozy’s intervention with the Senate and the Mexican government was key to the inmates’change of mind about her. As they saw the French President himself pulling up his sleeves for Florence, people started to question the way most of the Mexican media had depicted her, as the sequestradora, the Francesa diabolica. I gladly admit I was off the mark in an earliercriticism of Sarkozy’s intervention on this blog. Yet I think that Florence is perhaps too modest. Her audacious resilience in claiming her innocence must have something to do with people’s empathy for her.

Frenchwoman jailed in Mexico rips press

Fox news

Nov 2011

Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 60 years in prison in Mexico, said in an interview aired Sunday on French television that reports in the Mexican press alleging that she was involved in illegal activities in prison were “a baseless new set-up.”

“This is gossip from rags,” Cassez told France’s M6 television network, adding that if the allegations were valid the police would have charged her.

Asked about the origins of the articles, which alleged that the Frenchwoman was involved in, among other crimes, drug sales in the prison, Cassez said it “could be anybody” behind them.

Mexico’s Supreme Court agreed in March to review Cassez’s case, which has become a sore point in bilateral relations.

“It’s clear that they are willing to do anything” because they “did not like” the fact that the case reached the Supreme Court, Cassez said in response to a question about whether Mexican Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, who was head of the Federal Police at the time of her arrest, was involved.

Mexico’s Supreme Court justices “should study my file” and “take their time,” Cassez said.

The Frenchwoman, who asked the high court for a review of the Feb. 10 ruling by a lower court, said she was “cautiously hopeful” that the Supreme Court would rule in her favor, rating her expectations for a positive outcome at seven on a scale of one to 10.

Cassez, who turned 37 last Thursday, told M6 that she expected to prove her innocence and never expected to spend 60 years behind bars.

French officials continue working on the case, Cassez said, adding that everything changed once President Nicolas Sarkozy became involved in her defense.

Officials have asked the French Catholic Church to lobby the Mexican Catholic Church, which investigated the case, to help win Cassez’s freedom, M6 reported before airing the interview.

The Mexican Catholic Church’s investigation determined that failures in the justice system led to Cassez’s conviction.

Cassez contends that her rights were violated when she was arrested more than five years ago.

France and Mexico spent several weeks sparring over the Cassez case earlier this year.

Some French officials and Cassez’s family called for the cancellation of the “Year of Mexico,” a series of more than 350 art, cultural and business events scheduled to be held in France throughout the course of 2011.

Mexico said it would not participate in the celebration in the wake of Sarkozy’s announcement in February that the series of events would be dedicated to Cassez.

France has asked Mexico to repatriate Cassez so she can serve out her sentence in her homeland.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration has said the Frenchwoman – who received a 98-year prison sentence in 2008 that was subsequently reduced to 60 years – cannot be repatriated due to the possibility that Cassez could obtain a drastic reduction or suspension of her sentence if she were to be sent back to France.

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.

Cassez’s defense team said witnesses changed their testimony and implicated the Frenchwoman in the abductions after it emerged that the raid shown on television was a re-enactment of the original police operation.

The Frenchwoman has proclaimed her innocence from the beginning, denying that she participated in kidnappings.