Two French journalists were arrested Thursday evening on suspicion of trying to blackmail Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, allegedly demanding €3 million in exchange for not publishing a damaging book about the monarch.
According to lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, representing the North African kingdom, journalists Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet were involved in a “thug’s racket”.
They were arrested after meeting with a representative of the Moroccan government in a Paris restaurant on Thursday and remained in detention on Friday, accused of extortion and attempted blackmail.
Dupond-Moretti told FRANCE 24 the two journalists contacted Moroccan palace officials on July 23, informing representatives of the king that they had written a book on Mohammed VI, and a first meeting was organised in Paris with a Moroccan lawyer.
According to Dupond-Moretti, Eric Laurent said in the meeting: “For three million euros, I won’t publish the book I have written with Catherine Graciet.”
The Moroccan government alerted French authorities to the alleged blackmail, and a further meeting was arranged, this time under police surveillance.
“Both Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet were present,” said Dupond-Moretti. “They signed a contract and received 80,000 euros in cash.”
The pair were arrested as they left the establishment “with the proceeds of their crime in their pockets”, the lawyer said.
Laurent and Graciet had already written a damning book about Mohammed VI in 2012, titled “The Predator King”, in which they accuse Mohammed VI of overbearing authoritarianism and cronyism.
Their publisher, Editions du Seuil, confirmed on Friday that they had finished a second book that was due to be published in January.
Journalist Nicolas Beau, who had co-authored a 2009 book with Graciet on Leila Trablesi, the wife of deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, told AFP on Friday he was “in shock” and that “she is not the type of person to have done something like this”.
Graciet has also published an investigation into former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s relationship with another deposed African dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in which she accused Sarkozy of receiving illegal cash donations from the Libyan strongman.
Laurent as well has a history of authoring investigative books, including “The Banks Get Millions, We Get the Crisis” published this year, “The Hidden Face of Petrol” (2009) and “Bush, Iran and the Bomb” (2007).
Since the 2012 publication of “The Predator King”, both Graciet and Laurent have been personae non gratae in Morocco, while the book caused months of diplomatic headaches between Paris and Rabat.
Speaking to French daily Le Monde on Friday, Graciet’s lawyer Eric Moutet insisted blackmail was out of character for his client and hinted that the arrest was the result of a Moroccan government sting.
“I don’t yet have complete access to the case files but this whole business stinks of a set-up,” he said.
Date created : 2015-08-28