The Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the immediate release of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping and other crimes in Mexico and sentenced to serve 60 years in prison.
The decision was approved by a majority of the members of the First Chamber of the high court, which changed an initial opinion that called for the case to be sent back to a lower court due to irregularities in the prosecution and trial.
Four of the panel’s five members rejected the initial opinion and its author, Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero, then unexpectedly changed her position.
The panel modified the opinion, calling for Cassez’s immediate release in light of the irregularities in the judicial process and did not send the case back to the lower court.
The high court voted 3-2 to release Cassez without any conditions.
“As a result, we are instructing the secretary ... to notify via the fastest and most efficient means that Florence Cassez should be immediately and absolutely released,” Chief Justice Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo said.
Earlier Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio that the government was confident that the Mexican Supreme Court would throw out Cassez’s prison sentence.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited France during a tour of Europe that he completed before taking office last year.
Peña Nieto told French President François Hollande during his visit to Paris last October that he wanted to remove the Cassez case as an issue in bilateral relations and leave it in the hands of the courts, Fabius said.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy pressured Mexico to transfer Cassez to a French prison to serve out her term, invoking the Strasbourg Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which Mexico signed in 2007.
The administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, however, insisted that the Frenchwoman - who received a 98-year prison sentence in 2008 that was subsequently reduced to 60 years - could not be repatriated due to the possibility that she might obtain a drastic reduction or suspension of her sentence in France.
Some of Sarkozy’s statements about the Cassez case caused diplomatic tensions with Mexico, especially his call in February 2011 to dedicate the “Year of Mexico,” a series of more than 350 art, cultural and business events scheduled to be held in France, to the jailed Frenchwoman.
Cassez’s attorney, Agustin Acosta, said Tuesday that the Mexican federal law enforcement agency that arrested the Frenchwoman acted “in bad faith.”
“This matter is marked, is sealed by the issue of the staging (of her arrest),” the attorney said.
Florence Cassez was arrested on Dec. 8, 2005, on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway along with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, the suspected leader of the Los Zodiaco kidnapping gang.
A day later, agents from the now-defunct AFI, Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, staged a mock raid so TV cameras could film the arrest of the gang members in a wooded area near Mexico City.
The re-enactment of the raid is among the irregularities in the case, making it seem as if Cassez was being arrested at that time, the Cassez family and attorneys have argued.
The Frenchwoman has proclaimed her innocence from the beginning, denying that she participated in kidnappings.
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