Friday 25 January 2013

Cassez fiasco casts shadow on Gaddafi case

Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, has called on that country’s authorities not to repeat similar fiascos such as the Florence Cassez case. Ms. Cassez, a French national, was released from prison on January 23 after a 3-2 decision by the supreme court, which determined that extreme irregularities had made it impossible for her to receive a fair trial.

 Cassez, exhausted and disheveled, on the morning of her "arrest"

“I reaffirm my absolute respect in the decisions,” said Peña Nieto. “I lament that in this case, or in any other case, errors or violations of due process prevent the judiciary from determining the innocence or guilt of a person.”

The only other high profile international case facing Mexico’s Attorney General’s office (PGR) relates to an alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, third son to former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, from Libya to Mexico in 2011. In that case a Danish national, Pierre Flensborg, a Canadian, Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier, and an American, Gabriela (Gabby) de Cueto, are being held.

In the Gaddafi case, final arguments are being made, with a decision expected within two months.

The defendants in the Gaddafi case have made similar complaints as Cassez with regard to slow consular access and poor treatment.

The failings of the Mexican authorities, however, are not as egregious here as in the Cassez case. As well, whereas the French government and people rallied behind Cassez, the Canadian, Danish, and American governments have kept a low profile, resulting in less pressure on Peña Nieto’s new administration.

There is less attention within Mexico, too. The alleged Gaddafi plotters harmed no Mexicans, with the case being much less sensitive than Cassez’s, which dealt with kidnapping, an ongoing scourge in Mexico, and involved real victims on Mexican soil. Consequently, the judge in the Gaddafi case has more political leeway. And, though Peña Nieto may have just tipped his hat in favour of a release, it might also be that a conviction in the Gaddafi case would re-assert a “get-tough” image, ameliorating some of the negative domestic political fallout from the Cassez release.

In Mexico, sentences are quite long. Cassez, for example, had served seven years of a 60 year sentence for kidnapping, and Vanier et al are looking at six to 18 years for “attempt to human smuggle”.

In his comments Peña Nieto asked the police and judicial authorities to strictly adhere to the law, with the specific intention of avoiding embarrassments like the affaire Cassez, in which the accused was detained, kept overnight, and grandstanded the next day in a fake arrest staged for the media. Innocent or guilty – and there are many Mexicans who feel betrayed by her release – the case revealed an almost comical disregard for due process and the rule of law.

In related news, the Mexican government has announced that it is adopting a lower profile with regard to arrests. In the Calderon administration, accused criminals were paraded before the media in shackles. They were often referred to by their gang names, with alleged cartel links mentioned. No more. Now, Peña Nieto's communications team has said that it will be enforcing a previously-ignored article of the Federal Radio and Television Law prohibiting "apology for violence or crime."

This policy will extend even to the government’s list of its 37 most-wanted, who will no longer be known by aliases or affiliations with organized crime.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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  1. read the National Post article today? now i understand the poor quality of food at the airport project...all the money was going into Saadi's superyachts and property's....

  2. Yes, I'm sure $160 million could have really spruced up the cafeteria!