MEXICO CITY – French journalist Anne Vigna, author of a book critical of the administration of justice in Mexico, is alleging that Mexican police fabricated evidence in the case of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping and serving a 60-year prison sentence.
“We assume that there is no evidence of her involvement (in the kidnappings). It is not up to us to say whether she is innocent or not, but what we can see is that there was fabrication of evidence, manipulation of the victims, and the police did that,” Vigna said in an interview with Efe.
The Cassez case has been tainted by controversy almost since the beginning.
Cassez was arrested on Dec. 8, 2005, on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway along with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, suspected leader of the Los Zodiaco gang.
A day later, agents from the 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.
Vigna, co-author with fellow journalist Alain Devalpo of the recently released “Fabrica de culpables. Florence Cassez y otros casos de la injusticia mexicana” (Factory of the Guilty. Florence Cassez and Other Cases of Mexican Injustice), said her work was not intended to just “help a Frenchwoman.”
The journalist said that if “anything against her (Cassez)” had been found, she would have published it, but nothing turned up.
The results of the investigation “forcefully” help the cause of Cassez, who is serving her sentence at Mexico City’s Santa Martha Acatitla prison, Vigna said.
“She has been saying that she is innocent for four and a half years. We did not find any evidence of her guilt in the case in the investigation,” Vigna said.
The journalist said she could not understand how the judge in the case could have received information about other people who participated in the gang’s kidnappings but still failed to go after them or charge them.
The case demonstrates that “Mexican justice ... when it decides to charge you, it charges you and it’s going to be very hard for you to prove your innocence,” Vigna said.
Cassez has publicly accused former AFI director Genaro Garcia Luna, who was named public safety secretary in December 2006, of using her case to score public relations points on a sensitive issue in Mexican society.
Last June, President Felipe Calderon said Mexico would not repatriate Cassez.
Cassez “will serve her sentence of 60 years in prison in Mexico” for the crimes she committed, Calderon said in a national address.
The Frenchwoman was sentenced to 98 years in prison in 2008, but her sentence was reduced to 60 years before French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Mexico last year.
Sarkozy asked Calderon to repatriate Cassez during his visit to Mexico in March 2009.
The French government has been working through legal and diplomatic channels to have Cassez transferred to France, but there was opposition in Mexico on the grounds that Paris could allow her to be released or receive a reduced sentence.
The Mexican and French governments created a joint commission to examine the case during Sarkozy’s visit.
Vigna said the Calderon administration’s decision to push for deep reforms in the criminal justice system was positive, but she expressed concern about the fact that one of the objectives was to give more power to police.
“The power they have in this country is very worrisome because there is no institution to control what they do,” the journalist said.
Vigna cited the case of Jacinta Francisco Marcial, an Indian woman sentenced to 21 years in prison, as an example.
Francisco Marcial is accused of kidnapping six federal officers, who alleged that she and other market stall holders in the plaza of Santiago Mexquititlan, a city in the central state of Queretaro, took them hostage in March 2006 during an operation targeting sellers of pirated DVDs.
Vigna, who collaborated with Mexican and foreign journalists on her book, works for several French media outlets, including France 2 television, Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Marianne. EFE