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France

French ‘blackmail’ writers say Morocco ‘manipulated’ them

© Fadel Senna / AFP | A Moroccan newspaper headlines with the blackmail allegations

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2015-08-31

Two French journalists accused of trying to blackmail Moroccan King Mohammed VI have denied any wrongdoing and insisted they were victims of an elaborate trap devised by palace officials to discredit them.

Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet were arrested last Thursday as they left a Paris restaurant where they had met a representative for the Moroccan king.

Laurent is alleged to have demanded three million euros, in a call made to the Moroccan royal palace in July, in return for not publishing a book that the writers said contained “apocalyptic” information about Mohammed VI’s regime.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a French lawyer representing the king, told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the pair signed a contract not to publish during Thursday’s meeting, and left with a down-payment of 80,000 euros in cash.

They were arrested immediately afterwards “with the proceeds of their crime in their pockets”, the lawyer said.

‘Given the subject, three million euros...’

But according to the two journalists, the blackmail allegation is the latest in a long series of attempts by the Moroccan establishment to silence them and to prevent the publication of their book, due to hit the shelves in January 2016.

In separate interviews with French newspapers, both writers insisted that it was Morocco that had offered them the cash and that they had decided to accept the offer “for personal reasons”.

Graciet told Le Parisien that Laurent had contacted the royal palace in July because their book contained so much damaging information they were “obliged to ask the regime for an interview so that the palace could tell its side of the story”.

In an interview with Le Monde on Sunday, Laurent explained that the palace then arranged for a representative to meet him at a Paris hotel, and it was this representative who had suggested a payment to withhold publication.

“I had gone to the meeting with the intention of doing an interview, not to ask for cash,” Laurent said. “When he mentioned remuneration, I said ‘OK, if you really want us not to publish, given the subject, three million euros...’.”

‘I had a moment of weakness’

The representative concurred, but with the caveat that “for that price, I want to know your sources”, Laurent said, adding that he refused to pass on any such details. The representative asked for a second meeting, Laurent said, this time with Graciet present.

Laurent, who told Le Monde the cash offer had piqued his interest because his wife was “severely ill”, insisted that during the meetings “the idea that I was blackmailing the king was so far from my mind that I didn’t even think of asking [the representative] to turn off his mobile phone, which was switched on and on the table in front of us”.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Graciet told Le Parisien. “Why would a lawyer for the king take such a huge risk [in talking to them]? We have been trying without success for the last ten years to speak with a palace official, and I even thought this bizarre offer could be the basis for a chapter in the book.”

According to Graciet, during last Thursday’s meeting the “offer” was negotiated to two million euros with an immediate cash advance of 40,000 euros for each of the writers.

“I allowed myself to be tempted – I had a moment of weakness,” Graciet said. “When I signed I thought to myself that here was the proof of the corruption we had written about. OK, so it wasn’t morally the best thing to do, but it certainly wasn’t criminal.”

“It was the palace official who insisted we accept the cash advance,” she added. “And when the police arrested us in the hotel lobby, I understood we had been manipulated.”

Personae non gratae

Laurent and Graciet have already co-authored a damning book about Mohammed VI, published in 2012 and titled “The Predator King”, in which they accuse the Moroccan head of state 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 for his 2007 presidential campaign 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.

Date created : 2015-08-31

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