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Diplomatic crisis over Frenchwoman jailed in Mexico

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Charlotte Cassez, mother of Florence Cassez, sentenced in Mexico to 60 years in prison for kidnapping, gives a press conference in Lille, northern France. A Mexican court on February 10, upheld the conviction of a French woman who is serving a 60-year prison term for kidnapping.

Diplomatic relations between France and Mexico deteriorated into a crisis Friday, after a Mexican court upheld a 60-year prison term for a French woman convicted of kidnapping.

The French government, which took up the cause of the 36-year-old Florence Cassez, arrested in Mexico in 2005, did not mince words: “A denial of justice” which “will weigh on our bilateral relations,” said French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

Alliot-Marie pledged to summon the Mexican ambassador to express her displeasure in person, and said she would refuse to attend Mexican cultural events scheduled this year in France.

In response, the Mexican government summoned the French ambassador to Mexico, Daniel Parfait, according to Mexican undersecretary of foreign affairs, Lourdes Aranda.

“The bilateral relation is a priority and we don’t want it to be tarnished by a specific legal case,” she said.

Cassez appealed but Mexican judges Thursday rejected her lawyer’s argument that her conviction was tainted by authorities, who were revealed to have staged her arrest for the media five years ago. Her 96-year prison sentence was reduced to 60 years in 2009.

Prosecutors have admitted that the staging of Cassez’s arrest was a mistake, but the appeals court judges ruled it had no effect on her conviction.

Cassez had been arrested the day before, along with her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta, a Mexican citizen.

Vallarta has admitted guilt and said Cassez was innocent but the appeals court said there was testimony from kidnap victims implicating Cassez.

“I will proclaim my innocence until the end,” Cassez said in a telephone interview from her prison. She described herself as “dejected.”

Mexico angrily rejected Alliot-Marie’s claim that Cassez suffered a “denial of justice.”

Carlos de Icaza, Mexico’s ambassador to France, said the Mexican judiciary has “absolute independence.”

“The Mexican judicial system has checks and balances that allow an accused person to assert their rights,” he told journalists.

Charlotte Cassez, the mother of the jailed woman, in a news conference called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to cancel the cultural year.

Sarkozy plans to meet with the family Monday. Sarkozy has already interceded, two years ago when he asked his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, to transfer Cassez to France to serve her sentence. The request was rejected.

The Cassez spat is bad timing for Sarkozy. Mexico is due to take over the leadership of the G20 economic grouping from Paris next year, and the French president will need Calderon’s help in pushing one of his top priorities, reforming the international monetary system.

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