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France

Judge reduces Cassez's sentence ahead of Sarkozy's visit

Latest update : 2009-03-10

A few days ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Mexico, a French woman, Florence Cassez, saw her sentence for kidnapping reduced from 96 to 60 years in jail. Her Mexican former fiancé is believed to be the head of a criminal gang.

AFP - A Mexican judge reduced a Frenchwoman's kidnapping sentence from 96 to 60 years in jail, Mexican officials said in a statement late Tuesday.

The judgment in the appeal of Florence Cassez, 34, whose case has been closely followed in France, came days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy was to make an official visit to Mexico.

Cassez's lawyer Franck Berton earlier told AFP that she had been sentenced to 70 years prison.

"They took away my last hope," Cassez told AFP by phone from the prison where she is being held. "On March 8 it will be three years and three months, taken from my life."

Berton expressed outrage at the judgment, and insisted on his client's innocence.

"It is a scandal, a shame -- a blow to liberty and to life," said Berton. "Everything points to her innocence."

Cassez, jailed since 2005 in Mexico, has proclaimed she was unaware of the illicit activities of her Mexican former fiance, Israel Vallarta, believed to be the head of a criminal gang.

Cassez was detained in December 2005 at Vallarta's home, where several kidnap victims were found and rescued by police.

She "broke down in tears" when she heard the judge's ruling on her appeal, the lawyer said. "She is revolted by this additional injustice."

In her initial trial in 2006, Cassez was convicted on four counts of kidnapping and weapons possession and sentenced to 96 years behind bars.

The woman's fate has drawn the attention of French officials including Sarkozy, who met with Cassez's parents last May.

Two French senators and a regional executive on Tuesday urged Sarkozy to "postpone or even cancel" his trip over the affair.

"To announce such a judgment a few days ahead of his official trip is not only a snub for France, but also a provocation against the French president," Ile-de-France executive Jean-Luc Romero and senators Alain Fouche and Jean-Rene Lecerf said in a statement.

Date created : 2009-03-04

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