Mexican Court Denies Appeal from French Citizen Accused of Kidnapping; Judicial Rulings Affect Two Other High-Profile Cases
Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico
Diplomatic tensions erupted between Mexico and France after a Mexican federal court of appeals ruled to uphold a 60-year sentence against French citizen Florence Cassez on charges that she openly participated in three kidnappings in 2005. Cassez's attorney had tried to convince the Septimo Tribunal Colegiado en Materia Penal del Primer Circuito to throw out the case because of irregularities that occurred during the arrest. But the court said the irregularities were not sufficient to override the circumstances that led to Cassez's arrest. The court's decision angered the French government, which threatened to cancel a year-long festival featuring Mexico. It also threatened to bring up the matter at a meeting of the Group of 20 (G-20) nations in Paris in late February.
The Cassez case is one of three recent controversial legal decisions affecting high-profile cases. In early February, a federal district judge ordered the suspension of an arrest order against fugitive miners-union leader Napoleon Gomez Urrutia. The embattled former leader of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalurgicos y Similares de la Republica Mexicana (SNTMMSRM) fled to Vancouver, Canada, rather than face money-laundering charges SourceMex, March 1, 2006 and Aug. 16, 2006. Gomez Urrutia's supporters said the decision paves the way for his return to Mexico, but an attorney for the plaintiffs who accused the union leader of stealing about US$55 million says the charges of fraud and embezzlement have not been dropped.
In a third high-profile case, a US federal judge denied a motion to block the extradition of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Mexican of Chinese descent who is accused of drug trafficking and money laundering in Mexico. Ye Gon fled to the US just before Mexican authorities raided his mansion in Mexico City, where they found the equivalent of US$205 million SourceMex, July 25, 2007 . Ye Gon filed a motion to block extradition, claiming that he would not receive a fair trial in Mexico. But, in early February, John M. Facciola, a magistrate judge for the District of Columbia, denied Ye Gon's motion, saying that Mexican authorities had complied with all the requirements for the extradition to proceed.
France warns of diplomatic consequences
The Cassez case filled the Mexican headlines for several days in February, as French officials issued threats against the Mexican government and the courts and said the decision would cause great harm to bilateral relations. "This is a deplorable decision, and the conditions under which it was reached are not acceptable," said French Foreign Relations Secretary Michele Alliot-Marie. "This ruling no doubt is going to have a negative bearing on our bilateral relations."
The Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) responded with a statement expressing "deep regret" at Alliot-Marie's suggestion that bilateral relations between the two nations would be harmed. The SRE said the French foreign minister's comments ignored the fact that Mexico subscribes to the concept of separation of powers and that the judicial branch enjoys "absolute independence."
"Florence Cassez made use of all the means of defense that Mexican law makes available to anyone facing charges in Mexico," said the SRE.
Alliot-Marie insisted that the Mexican courts ignored several arguments that would normally result in the reversal of a verdict. Cassez's lawyer Agustin Acosta had pushed to have the charges against his client thrown out on the grounds that the case had become prejudiced because of official misconduct. On the day after she was detained near a ranch outside Mexico City, police re-enacted the arrest in front of the cameras in a staged media event.
The appeals court rejected Acosta's argument on the premise that the videos taken the day after the arrest had actually not been introduced as formal evidence during the trial.
Cassez, who was detained in 2005 but not sentenced until 2009, had maintained her innocence from the very beginning, arguing that she was only a resident at the ranch where the arrest took place and did not know that several people being held there were kidnap victims. …