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.


New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern goes into hospital to give birth

Updated 21 June 2018
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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern goes into hospital to give birth

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived Thursday at Auckland Hospital as she prepared to give birth to her first child.
The 37-year-old Ardern would become just the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while in office, after the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gave birth to daughter Bakhtawar in 1990.
Ardern’s due date was June 17. The birth has been highly anticipated in the South Pacific nation of nearly 5 million people. She has not said whether she’s expecting a boy or a girl.
Ardern’s office confirmed she had arrived at the hospital with partner Clarke Gayford.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has taken over as acting prime minister. Ardern plans to take a six-week leave before returning to work.
Under the arrangement, Ardern will still be consulted on major decisions, including issues of national security.
Ardern has said she is confident the government will continue to run smoothly in her absence.
She said she hoped to be “sharing the good news” in an announcement but also to have some quiet time to enjoy as a family.
Asked earlier this month how the couple had been faring while trying to choose a name, Ardern responded: “Terribly. Do you have any suggestions?“