Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case

This file photo taken on August 29, 2015 shows a Moroccan man reading the latest issue of Al-Massae daily newspaper in Arabic with on its page portraits of the two French investigative journalists who have been charged in Paris with trying to blackmail the king of Morocco out of two million euros ($2.2 million) in hush money on August 29, 2015 in Rabat. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case

PARIS: A French appeals court on Friday dealt a blow to two journalists accused of trying to blackmail the king of Morocco by ruling that secret recordings could be used as evidence against them.
Lawyers for French investigative journalists Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet argued unsuccessfully that tapes of conversations between them and a Moroccan official were inadmissible.
“It’s a very big victory,” Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for the king told AFP. “There is no longer any obstacle to going ahead to conviction.”
Laurent, 69, and Graciet, 42, were charged with blackmail and extortion for demanding three million euros from Moroccan King Mohammed VI not to bring out a book purportedly containing damaging revelations about him.
They were arrested in Paris in August 2015 after a secretly recorded meeting with a Moroccan official at which they allegedly accepted payments of 40,000 euros ($47,000) each, a source close to the French investigation told AFP.
They were in possession of 80,000 euros in cash as they left the meeting, which occurred after the monarch had filed a case with Paris prosecutors.
The Moroccan government claims that the payment was the first instalment of a total of two million euros demanded by the authors in exchange for not publishing their book.
The journalists allegedly demanded three million euros initially, but reduced the figure after further negotiations. They deny the charges.
Laurent and Graciet published a highly critical book on Mohammed VI in 2012 titled “The Predator King” about his extensive business dealings which was banned in Morocco.
Their new book had been slated for publication in early 2016.
Laurent was previously recorded during two other meetings with the envoy, Hicham Naciri, a lawyer.
In an earlier preliminary hearing, the court judged the recordings were made with the “indirect participation” of French investigators “without the consent” of the two journalists, which it said contravened the principle of a fair trial.
But on Friday the court delivered its final ruling, saying police had played a “passive” role and could not be considered to have been “truly involved” in the bugging.
Investigating magistrates must now decide whether to send the case to trial or throw it out.


Pope invites Mideast religious leaders to Italy for peace summit

Updated 54 min 42 sec ago
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Pope invites Mideast religious leaders to Italy for peace summit

VATICAN CIT: Pope Francis has invited leaders of all Christian denominations in the Middle East to join him in Italy in July to discuss how they can help bring peace to the region, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
The meeting will take place on July 7 in the southern Adriatic port city of Bari, chosen because it is home to the relics of St. Nicholas, a figure venerated in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.
Nicholas, who lived about 1,700 years ago in what is today Turkey, is particularly honored by Christian Orthodox Churches in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon in the Middle East.
Nicholas is also widely venerated among Orthodox Christians in Russia, which is Syria’s ally in the civil war.
The Vatican said the encounter would be an “ecumenical meeting for peace” where the religious leaders would discuss “the dramatic situation of the Middle East that afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”