News24

French woman to stay in Mexican jail

2012-03-22 13:13

Mexico City - The first chamber of Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a recommendation for the immediate release of French woman Florence Cassez, sentenced to 60 years in jail for kidnapping.

A judge appointed by the court to review her case had recommended release due to irregularities in her trial proceedings, but the five-judge Supreme Court panel was divided over whether to approve it.

Two out of five judges supported Cassez's release, three were against, and of those, two called for a retrial.

Justice Arturo Zaldivar, who made the recommendation, concluded that the appeal "will be turned over to a new justice", without giving further details.

Cassez's lawyer, Agustin Acosta, said that the conclusion was significant, even though it failed to support his client's release, because "it recognises that there were violations of the proceedings of a fair trial".

"The battle continues," he added.

Proceedings flawed


Mexican authorities presented the arrest of Cassez and her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta, in late 2005, as a spectacular success in the fight against rampant kidnappings.

But Zaldivar wrote that the proceedings had been flawed, particularly criticising the police's role in a TV setup showing a "live" raid on a ranch to free three kidnap victims. The raid actually took place hours after the suspects were detained elsewhere.

He also criticised the failure to respect the presumption of innocence or to immediately present Cassez to consular and legal officials.

Cassez's mother, speaking in Paris, said she was "sad, disappointed and shocked", at the decision by the Mexican court.

"We can't lose hope... we must once more keep up the fight," a visibly emotional Charlotte Cassez told reporters in the French capital.

Her daughter's French lawyer Frank Berton called the situation "a massive judicial impasse".

Calderon getting personal


"Four judges in the highest court in Mexico say that this woman had a truncated trial, this woman's rights were violated," he said, accusing Mexican President Felipe Calderon of directly intervening in the case.

"I am convinced that Mr Calderon made this a personal matter," Berton insisted. "This is a real international scandal."

The case has strained diplomatic relations between Mexico and France, while families of Mexican kidnap victims have expressed outrage at Cassez's possible release.

"Today, we the victims are confident that justice will finally prevail and that a person accused of kidnapping has not been let out free," said Isabel Miranda de Wallace, director of the Stop Kidnappings group and candidate for Mexico City mayor for the governing conservative party.

Cassez, who is now 37 and has spent more than six years in a Mexican jail, has denied any knowledge of the crimes and claims the authorities made an example of her.