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.


US airstrike kills 18 Al-Shabab after US attacked in Somalia

Updated 22 September 2018
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US airstrike kills 18 Al-Shabab after US attacked in Somalia

  • No US or Somali forces were killed or injured in the attack
  • The confrontation occurred about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of the port city of Kismayo

JOHANNESBURG: A US military airstrike has killed 18 Al-Shabab extremists after US and local forces on the ground came under attack in southern Somalia, the US Africa Command said Saturday.
No US or Somali forces were killed or injured in the attack, an AFRICOM spokesman, Nate Herring, told The Associated Press. The airstrike was carried out Friday in self-defense after extremists were “observed maneuvering on a combined patrol,” while the US also responded with “indirect fire,” the spokesman said.
The confrontation occurred about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of the port city of Kismayo, the US Africa Command statement said. Two other Al-Shabab extremists were killed by Somali forces “with small arms fire during the engagement,” it said.
The operation was Somali-led, the AFRICOM spokesman said. There was no immediate comment from Somali authorities.
The US has carried out more than 20 airstrikes this year against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa.
US military involvement in Somalia has grown since President Donald Trump early in his term approved expanded operations against Al-Shabab. Dozens of drone strikes followed. Late last year the military also carried out its first airstrike against a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State in northern Somalia.
Since the expanded operations, two US military personnel have been killed in Somalia.
A service member was killed in May 2017 during an operation about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Mogadishu. And in June, one US special operations soldier was killed and four US service members wounded in an “enemy attack” as troops with Somali and Kenyan forces came under mortar and small-arms fire in Jubaland.
The US currently has about 500 military personnel in the Horn of Africa nation.
Al-Shabab, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, was pushed out of Mogadishu in recent years but continues to control rural areas in the south and central regions. Its fighters continue to attack the bases of a multinational African Union force that remains largely responsible for security as Somalia’s fragile central government tries to recover from decades of chaos.
In the next few years Somali forces are expected to take over responsibility for the country’s security as the AU force withdraws. Concerns about their readiness remain high, and the UN Security Council recently voted to delay the handover’s target date to December 2021.