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.


Controversy surrounds Qatari Emir’s UK visit

Updated 30 min 17 sec ago
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Controversy surrounds Qatari Emir’s UK visit

LONDON: Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in the United Kingdom on Sunday for a visit that is already mired in controversy, with activists planning to demonstrate outside Parliament on Monday against Qatar’s continued support for terrorism across the Middle East region.
Meanwhile, banners over prominent roads in London, with the hashtag #OpposeQatarVisit, asked: “If a country was accused of paying $1 billion in a ransom to terrorist groups… then why is the UK government rolling out the red carpet for the Qatar Emir?”
The schedule of the Qatar Emir’s visit was not disclosed officially by the UK government, but sources told Arab News that his official engagements will start Monday morning with a meeting with UK businessmen and later in the day, he is due to make a speech in Parliament. His meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and other members of the UK government will take place on Tuesday.

Sources said that his speech in Parliament is likely to praise his country’s special relations with the UK and to condemn the year-old boycott imposed on his country by the Anti-Terror Quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE) due to Doha’s continued support of terrorism and terrorist organizations in the Middle East and beyond.
Arab activists in London said that they have prepared a special welcome for the Qatari Emir, calling for a noisy demonstration outside Parliament on Monday afternoon. The call to demonstrate against his visit was widely distributed via social media, with videos of people interviewed on the streets of London calling into question Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. “I can’t imagine it’s for the good of the sport or for inclusivity,” says one man. “It’s just not fair that it’s happening in Qatar,” says another.
The demonstration will take place after several recent stories have drawn Londoners’ attention to Qatar’s actions. Most recently, the BBC revealed new evidence that a $1-billion ransom Doha paid for the release of 28 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq was used to fund terror.
Also this month, it was revealed that Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Thani, a former Qatari interior minister linked to financing and promoting terrorism who had briefly been confined to house arrest, had recently re-emerged in Doha, where he was photographed signing a wall portrait of Sheikh Tamim. And last month, the UK Parliament launched an investigation into the Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK, a shadowy group with alleged ties to Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, after the videotaping of an event apparently breached parliamentary rules.

Ghassan Ibrahim, a London-based political analyst, said that members of Parliament as well as the UK government must review their position on Qatar. “If they have to meet with the Qatari Emir, they have to ask the important questions, especially the ones concerning Doha’s sponsor of terrorism and its ransom payment of $1.2 billion to terror groups in Iraq to liberate several members of the ruling Qatari family on a hunting trip in Iraq.
“The UK must also ask the Emir of Qatar questions about Doha’s continued financial, political and military support for the Al-Nusra Front and other extremists groups in Syria,” Ibrahim added, pointing out that Qatar continues to go against the international community’s stance to increase pressure on Tehran so that it stops meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbors.
Ibrahim told Arab News that it is “common knowledge that Doha has been supporting extremists groups and organizations that refuse integration in their respective host countries in the West, and Doha provides material help and funds for groups that are bent on dividing societies.”
The Emir of Qatar’s UK visit, Ibrahim added, is unlikely to change the Gulf country’s stance on promoting and funding terror, nor is it likely that Doha will change course and alienate itself from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups.
The Anti-Terror Quartet, which was established over a year ago, has been calling on Qatar to severe its relations with terror groups, and to stop giving financial and media support for the promotion of violent rhetoric and acts across the region.