|Born||Florence Marie Louise Cassez Crépin
17 November 1974
|Criminal charge||Kidnapping, organized crime and illegal possession of firearms|
|Criminal status||released from prison|
|Spouse(s)||Israel Vallarta (partner)|
|Parent(s)||Bernard Cassez and Charlotte Crepin|
Florence Marie Louise Cassez Crépin (born 17 November 1974 in Lille) is a French woman convicted in Mexico of belonging to the kidnapping gang Los Zodiacos (The Zodiacs). She received a 60-year sentence for the crimes of kidnapping, organized crime, and illegal possession of firearms. The sentence and a possible extradition to her home country created diplomatic tensions between France and Mexico. Cassez denies all charges.
On 23 January 2013 the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico ordered Cassez's immediate release due to police simulating for filming her arrest the day after her real arrest. She was repatriated to France on 24 January 2013.
- 1 Relationship with Israel Vallarta
- 2 The arrest
- 3 The legal case
- 4 The legal steps of the case
- 5 Appeal to the Mexican Supreme Court
- 6 Impact on French-Mexican relations
- 7 Public opinion in Mexico
- 8 References
Relationship with Israel Vallarta
In 2003, Florence Cassez arrived in Mexico legally as tourist, to live and work with her brother, who was there with his Mexican wife. She met the kidnapper Israel Vallarta the following year, through her brother. The pair began a difficult relationship that alienated her friends, who sensed that he was trouble. She returned to France in the summer of 2005 but Vallarta contacted her and she returned to Mexico to live at his ranch. Cassez found a job in a hotel and looked for an apartment closer to her job.
Florence Cassez's arrest took place on Thursday, 8 December 2005 on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca Highway, as she rode with Vallarta. She had been living with him, and they were seen together always. She was detained overnight, then moved to Vallarta's house in the early morning hours of Friday, 9 December 2005. The Mexican Federal Police, which had tipped off several journalists, staged a fake arrest that TV crews from the Mexican networks Televisa and TV Azteca reported live. Three kidnapped victims were freed and four persons—including Cassez—arrested. Cassez was then presented as a member of the kidnapping gang "Los Zodiaco", something she has always denied. Vallarta, who was the leader of the kidnapping band, also stated that Cassez had nothing to do with his kidnapping activity. Mexican public opinion is divided between those who believe she is "undoubtedly guilty," and those who believe the Felipe Calderón administration was using her as a scapegoat. There was also a debate whether judges should give preference to the legal procedure over justice, and so free Cassez, as demanded by Nicolas Sarkozy. The main irregularity was on legal procedures regarding the procedures to arrest an individual.
A few weeks later, during a live television show, Cassez called and confronted the head of Mexican Federal Police, Genaro García Luna, with the truth about the staged arrest. In the weeks that followed, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, the Attorney General of Mexico, was forced to admit that the arrest seen on TV was staged. He also tried to shift the blame on journalists, claiming they had requested it. As a result, one journalist, Pablo Reinah, was fired by his TV network. Reinah filed a lawsuit for defamation. In March 2007, the Mexican justice ruled that Reinah had no knowledge that the arrest of Florence Cassez and Israel Vallarta was staged.
Since August 2006, an official probe has been launched by the Mexican police against the federal agents who arrested Florence Cassez. On 21 March 2012, Three Ministers of the Mexican Supreme Court, concluded that many fundamental rights of Florence Cassez were violated in her arrest. Later that week the Procuraduría General de la República declared that it would start an investigation to search for those responsible of violating her fundamental rights and for staging the arrest.
The legal case
The Federal Police claimed that three victims were held hostage in the ranch where Cassez lived from September to December 2005, which belonged to Israel Vallarta. However, a couple who owned a restaurant nearby declared that they had the keys to the ranch and that a few days before the arrest staged by the police, they could detect no victims or any suspicious activity in the ranch.
The two judgments made by the Mexican tribunals are based on controversial testimonies.
The official testimonies
Cristina Rios Valladares' Testimony
Cristina Ríos Valladares, and her 11-year-old son Cristián Hilario claimed that they were hostages of Florence Cassez. They were held hostage for 52 days, from 9 October 2005 to 9 December 2005. During their captivity, the victims were blindfolded and only heard the voices of their kidnappers. In their first declaration, they didn't recognize Cassez's voice. However the victims later changed their testimony claiming it was Cassez who would taunt them and torture them.
Ezequiel Elizalde's testimony
Ezequiel Elizalde was the third hostage freed during the staged arrest. He was held hostage for 65 days. In his testimony he claims he was sexually and physically abused by Cassez and her boyfriend. Elizalde also said they gave him baths while he was blind-folded and handcuffed. He also testified that Cassez threatened to cut off his finger and ear, and Cassez had even used a needle to anaesthetize his hand. Ezequiel Elizalde now lives in the US. He continues to maintain that Florence Cassez was one of his kidnappers. >
Controversy over David Orozco's testimony
In May 2009, some Mexican TV networks aired a video provided by the Mexican Federal Police showing a statement by David Orozco, a man presented as a member of the Los Zodíacos kidnapping gang. The man identified Cassez as one of the leaders of Los Zodíacos. However, in June 2010 a court document, signed by Judge Eduardo Javier Sáenz Hernández, surfaced, showing that Orozco later denied what he said on the video. He said he had been coerced into making the video statement by masked policemen who tortured him with electric shocks and threatened to kidnap his wife and his son. On the other hand, Isabel Miranda de Wallace, president of the association Alto al Secuestro (Stop the Kidnappings) stated that there have been many cases where Mexican kidnappers claim to have been tortured in order to exonerate themselves.
The legal steps of the case
- 8 December 2005: Florence Cassez is arrested.
- 9 December: with TV crews filming, the police staged a "recreation" of a raid on the compound where already-freed hostages were "rescued" and Vallarta and Cassez were "arrested."
- 25 April 2008: Cassez is condemned to 96 years in prison. She is identified as guilty of the following: organized crime; illegal deprivation of three people's liberty; possession of firearms used exclusively by the army.
- 2 March 2009: The sentence is reduced to 76 years in prison, then to 60 years to conform to the Mexican legislation that sets this time span as the limit of incarceration.
- 2009: Cassez claims that the Strasbourg Convention, signed by Mexico, allows her to be transferred to a French jail. At French insistence, Mexico set up a committee of legal experts from France and Mexico to study the transfer. The request is ultimately denied because in France she would not have 60 years in jail as in Mexico, and because France can not ensure the punishment, she must stay in Mexico.
- In August 2010, lawyers for Florence Cassez file an appeal to the Mexican Supreme Court, arguing that her arrest was unconstitutional and that her rights were violated.
- 10 February 2012: the appeals court upholds her conviction for kidnapping.
- 21 March 2012: the Mexican Supreme court rejects, 3–2, Florence Cassez' release petition.
- 22 January 2013: the Mexican Supreme court accepts, 3–2, Florence Cassez' release petition, without trial.
- 23 January 2013: Florence Cassez is freed and immediately flown back to France.
Appeal to the Mexican Supreme Court
|This section is outdated. (August 2013)|
In August 2010, Florence Cassez's lawyers filed an appeal to the Mexican Supreme Court, arguing that the arrest of Cassez is unconstitutional and that the rights of their client were violated.
Initiated on 30 August 2010 by Florence Cassez's lawyers, the appeal en amparo is the equivalent for the court of last resort. The verdict pronounced soon by the Seventh Collegiate Tribunal in the penal case covers formal points rather than the charge, which remains the same. The court of last resort covers points on form. The request is directly addressed at the authority that pronounced the judgment, which transfers it to a district collegial tribunal of three magistrates.
The three magistrates who deliberated on the Cassez case are: Ricardo Ojeda Bohorquez, President of the Collegiate Tribunal. Having received a doctorate of law of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), he is a federal judge since 1992 and a circuit judge since 1997; Carlos Hugo Luna Ramos, judge rapporteur. He has been a judge of a circuit tribunal since 1987; Manuel Barcena Villanueava is a specialist in penal and constitutional law, who was appointed circuit judge in 2000 through an opposition competition.
For Florence Cassez, there were could be three possible scenarios: (1) The Seventh Circuit Tribunal could proclaim Florence Cassez innocent overturning the judgment of the court of appeals. This would result in her immediate release from prison and could return to France. This decision would have confirmed the suspicions of the defense concerning the faults in the form, but it would not affect the charges held against her; (2) The tribunal could have recognized some of the irregularities underlined in the court of last resort. In this case, new proceedings would be launched and the case would be re-examined while Cassez remained in custody; (3) The verdict could be reconfirmed; Florence Cassez would have to serve her sentence. In this case, the defense's arguments concerning the faults in the form would be judged not pertinent by the magistrates.
On 10 February 2011, an appeals court upheld her conviction (scenario 3) for kidnapping, The court said in a statement that her conviction and 60-year-sentence would stand. The court said prosecutors had proven Cassez's guilt in four 2005 kidnappings, and that irregularities alleged by her defense attorney had not hindered the case.
7 March 2012. The Mexican Supreme Court reporter proposes freeing Florence Cassez based on the following reasons; The non respect of the presumption of innocence, the non respect of consular rights and the delay in presentation before the justice. A decision by five judges to whom the request was delivered is expected for 21 March, according to the Cassez' lawyer.
On 21 March 2012, The Mexican Supreme Court rejected the appeal and proposal of freeing Cassez by a 3-2 decision. The court accepted there was police misconduct and violations of Ms Cassez's rights after her detention. "Four Supreme Court judges say that my client had a truncated trial, she had her rights violated, that evidence was fabricated, so today we are angry and ashamed," said her lawyer Frank Berton. The court asked Judge Olga Sanchez to review the case, which could lead to a re-trial.
Impact on French-Mexican relations
On 9 March 2009, during Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Mexico, he requested that Cassez be transferred to a French prison, something she may be entitled to under the 1983 Strasbourg Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, signed by both France and Mexico. Felipe Calderón agreed to setting up a binational committee to settle this matter. However, given that she has been sentenced to 61 years and that 20 years is the maximum prison term permitted in France, Mexico finally decided in June 2009 that Cassez would remain in Mexico to serve her full term.
Mexico cancelled its participation of 2011 "The Year of Mexico in France" (350 events, films, and symposia planned) as the French president Sarkozy declared that this year-long event was going to be dedicated to Cassez, and each individual event would have some sort of remembrance of the Frenchwoman.
Public opinion in Mexico
Most Mexicans consider Cassez to be guilty, since she was indicted on the charges brought against her and freed on technical grounds. Only 10% of Mexicans polled believe in her innocence. For some Mexicans, the Cassez affair is a case of crime and punishment, and for others is a matter of administration of justice. For the current administration it is vital that Cassez remain in jail to support the legitimacy of the current Mexican Drug War and national public security policies. Intellectuals, such as Denise Dresser, Carmen Aristegui, and Mexican Writer Jorge Volpi, are among those who advocate liberty for Cassez, based on the illegality of the process. On the other hand, anti-crime activist Isabel Miranda de Wallace, former candidate for Mexico City's mayorship and mother of a son who was kidnapped and killed, is among those who claim that victim rights are more important than the Cassez affair.
- "Mexican Court Orders Release of French woman". ABC News. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Malkin, Elisabeth, A Cause Célèbre Clouds Mexican Sentiment on Kidnapping Scourge, The New York Times, 8 April 2009, retrieved 16 February 2011
- Journalist: Mexican Police Fabricated Evidence in Cassez Case, Latin American Herald Tribune
- Tuckman, Jo Mexico admits hostage rescue was staged for TV. The Guardian, 16 February 2006
- Steels, Emmanuel Florence Cassez, le piège mexicain Libération, 25 June 2009
- El Caso Florence Cassez, Noticieros Televisa, 14 March 2012
- Sarkozy wil Française redden Algemeen Dagblad (Dutch), 6 March 2009
- Tuckman, Jo, Mexico admits hostage rescue was staged for TV, The Guardian, 16 February 2006
- Française slachtoffer van 'mise-en-scène' door Mexicaanse politie De Standaard (Dutch), 21 April 2010
- Investigation into possible miscarriage of justice raises hopes for Cassez France24, 22 July 2010
- 25 reasons to free Florence Cassez, Proceso (Spanish), Reason no. 5
- Las víctimas ignoradas de Cassez Expatica.com, 3 June 2011
- Los 65 días que viví con mis secuestradores jamás los voy a olvidar Ezequiel Elizalde YouTube, last access on 10 March 2011
- 25 reasons to free Florence Cassez, Proceso (Spanish), Reason no. 13
- Vídeo detención David Orozco YouTube, last access on 24 July 2010
- Royer, Yuka Key testimony against Cassez 'obtained under duress' France 24, 4 June 2010
- Mexican said he lied in case of jailed French woman Expatica.com, 3 June 2010
- Royer, Yuka Frenchwoman charged with kidnapping appeals 60-year sentence France 24, 30 August 2010
- Biography available on the Mexican government website Ricardo Ojeda Bohorquez
- Biography available on the Mexican government website Carlos Hugo Luna Ramos
- Biography available on the Mexican government website Manuel Barcena Villanueava
- Recours de la dernière chance pour Florence Cassez, Le Figaro (French), 10 February 2011
- Mexican court rejects Florence Cassez's appeal, France 24, 10 March 2012
- Anuncian Comisión Revisora del Caso Cassez
- French national Florence Cassez to serve 60-year sentence in Mexico, France24, 5 February 2010, retrieved 16 February 2011
- Marquand, Robert, France's dispute with Mexico over Florence Cassez moves from diplomatic arena to cultural stage, The Christian Science Monitor, 15 February 2011, retrieved on 16 February 2011
- MIlenio group poll , additional text.
- 25 reasons to free Florence Cassez. Proceso (Spanish), 13 March 2012.