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Americas

Conviction overturned, Cassez on way to France

© AFP (Archives)

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-24

Freed French woman Florence Cassez was on her way back to France on Thursday, after Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned her 2008 conviction on kidnapping charges and ordered her immediate release. Cassez had been serving a 60-year prison sentence.

A French woman who spent seven years in a Mexican prison on kidnapping charges is flying back to Paris on Thursday after Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered her released due to flaws in her trial, bringing to a close a case that had strained relations between the two countries.

Florence Cassez’s arrest, trial and 60-year prison sentence made her a cause célèbre in France, where two consecutive presidents called for her release. Anti-crime activists in Mexico vigorously opposed the Wednesday decision to free her.
 
Cassez’s flight left Mexico City’s international airport at 9:25 p.m. local time (03:25 GMT) and was expected to arrive in Paris about 10 hours later.
 
Relatives of kidnap victims angrily shouted “Killer!” as a police convoy with sirens flashing escorted a sports utility vehicle out of the Mexico City prison where Cassez had been held.

Federal officers arrested Cassez, 38, in 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City with her former boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, whom they accused of heading a kidnapping gang called the Zodiacs.

© Cassez, in a photo released by her parents.

After the arrest, police made Cassez take part in a staged scene of officers freeing kidnap victims. She was portrayed as a kidnapper in the restaged event, which was aired on national television. Police subsequently admitted wrongdoing.

A judge convicted her in 2008 after a closed-door trial with no jury, which is typical of most cases in Mexico.

Maintained her innocence

Cassez maintained her innocence throughout her almost eight years of incarceration.

“The judges decided she simply wasn’t given a fair trial and that she should be released immediately,” said FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Cyril Vanier.

“The assumption that she was innocent until proven guilty wasn’t respected, she hadn’t been allowed to contact the French consulate, some of the testimony was faked and even her arrest was faked, staged for cameras a year after the event.”

In March, Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected a bid to release Cassez immediately, but opened the door to the review.

The prospect of her release before Wednesday’s ruling stirred resentment among kidnapping victims in Mexico, where thousands of serious crimes go unpunished by Mexico’s weak justice system.

But on the other side of the Atlantic in France, where the case has been closely followed, news of her release was welcomed in all quarters.

‘Joy’ in France

As the ruling was announced, Cassez’s mother Charlotte “exploded with joy” at the news her daughter would not have to serve out the 60-year jail term.

“I still can’t believe it, this decision is absolutely fabulous,” she told BFM TV. “The suspense has been huge. I’m exploding with joy, laughing and crying.”

French President François Hollande said on Wednesday night that with the Supreme Court’s decision, “a particularly painful time had come to an end”.

In a statement, Hollande thanked “all those, in Mexico and here in France, who fought so that truth and justice could prevail.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires

Date created : 2013-01-23

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