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.


EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

Updated 15 November 2018
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EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for

BRUSSELS/LONDON: European Union leaders will meet on Nov. 25 to endorse a Brexit divorce deal but British Prime Minister Theresa May was mauled by opponents, allies and mutinous members of her party who warned the agreement could sink her premiership.
May won the backing of her senior ministers after a five-hour meeting on Wednesday though she now faces the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament, which has the final say, to approve the agreement.
It is unclear when that vote might happen.
“If nothing extraordinary happens, we will hold a European Council meeting in order to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement,” European Council President Donald Tusk said after meeting EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
More than two years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU, May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for and that the other options were leaving with no deal or thwarting Brexit.
But in a sign of just how hard the vote in the British parliament might be, Shailesh Vara, who backed EU membership in the 2016 referendum, quit on Thursday as a junior minister in May’s government.
“I cannot support the Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed with the European Union,” Vara said as he resigned as a Northern Ireland minister.
“We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown they do not have our best interests at heart. We can and must do better than this.”
Nick Timothy, one of May’s former chiefs of staff, said her deal was a capitulation that parliament would reject.
“When parliament rejects the prime minister’s proposal, as surely it will, there will still be time for ministers to negotiate something better,” Timothy wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Timothy, who resigned after May’s botched gamble on a snap election that lost her party its majority in parliament, said Britain should use its security contribution as a bargaining chip to get a better deal.
May will give a statement to parliament on Thursday on the deal which she hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.
The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May’s deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.
Getting a deal through parliament will be difficult. She will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 lawmakers.
“The parliamentary arithmetic has looked tight for some time,” Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients. “It now looks tighter, given signs of greater unity among those who object to the draft Agreement.”
“We’re in the Brexs**t — Theresa May’s soft Brexit deal blasted by ALL sides,” read the headline in The Sun, Britain’s best-read newspaper.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.