In a recent trial held in Paris, the Moroccan government has sought a one-year suspended prison sentence and a 15,000 euro fine against two French journalists, Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet.
Holding journalists accountable
The journalists are being prosecuted for allegedly attempting to blackmail the King of Morocco in 2015. However, the defendants have disputed the claims and argued that the financial arrangement in question had actually come from the Moroccan government.
During the trial, Eric Laurent, a former reporter for Radio France and Figaro Magazine, and author of several books, defended himself by stating, “Where’s the blackmail, Mr President?”
Acknowledges ‘ethical error’
He acknowledged making an “ethical error”, but denied committing any criminal offence. Similarly, Catherine Graciet, the other defendant and author of books on the Maghreb and Libya, stated that she had been “seduced” by the Moroccan emissary’s financial offer, and regretted her actions.
It is worth noting that Laurent and Graciet had already authored a book on King Mohammed VI in 2012, titled “The predatory king”. They had also signed a contract with Le Seuil for a second volume on the same subject.
The alleged blackmail incident took place in July 2015, when Laurent contacted the private secretariat of the King of Morocco to request an appointment. The meeting took place on August 11, in a Parisian palace, with an emissary of the monarchy, the lawyer Hicham Naciri.
During the meeting, Laurent claims to have described the contents of the upcoming book to Naciri, which would have covered tensions in the royal family and accusations of financial embezzlement involving public companies in Morocco.
However, Naciri allegedly stated that this did not suit them, and quickly moved on to proposing a financial arrangement. Laurent claims that it was Naciri who proposed the deal, while the Moroccan government argues that it was Laurent who suggested it.
After the meeting, Morocco filed a complaint, and two more meetings were held on August 21 and 27. At the last meeting, the two journalists signed an agreement to withdraw the book project in exchange for 2 million euros. However, they were subsequently arrested, each with 40,000 euros in cash. It was later revealed that the three meetings had been recorded by the king’s emissary.
The defence has argued that the recording of the first meeting, which appears to show Laurent offering a sum, is fake.
An expert has acknowledged that the copy given to the investigators had undergone “a post-processing, impossible to specify”, but the defence’s appeals have been rejected. The prosecutor has stated that there is no evidence that the recording has been modified or tampered with in any way.
The decision in the case will be made on March 14. This trial is just one of several legal cases involving Morocco that are pending in Europe. A court in Madrid is currently considering a case filed by the Moroccan government against a former correspondent of El Pais newspaper, Ignacio Cembrero, over allegations that Morocco has used the Israeli-produced Pegasus spy program.
Additionally, the European Parliament is set to vote on a proposal to condemn Morocco for assaulting journalists and imprisoning them on charges of a sexual nature, as happened with Soulaimane Raissouni, Taoufik Bouachrine and Omar Radi.
UPDATE: Development on this case may be found here.