French writers face Morocco blackmail charges

Friday 11/09/2015
Al-Massae daily newspaper featuring a story about the two French investigative journalists who have been charged in Paris with trying to blackmail the king of Morocco.

Casablanca - Two French journalists, who previously published a book critical of Moroc­can King Mohammed VI, have been charged with trying to blackmail the monarch with the threat of writing a new book.

Eric Laurent and Catherine Gra­ciet are accused of demanding 3 million euros ($3.35 million) from the king in exchange for not pub­lishing their new work. Laurent and Graciet published a highly critical book about the Moroccan monarch entitled The Predator King in 2012.

Dubbed by Moroccan media as “the predator journalists”, Lau­rent and Graciet were arrested on August 31st in Paris. This followed Laurent’s meeting with a Moroccan lawyer, Hicham Naciri, represent­ing King Mohammed VI on August 11th at a Paris hotel during which the pair allegedly accepted 40,000 euros — nearly $45,000 — each and promised not to publish the new book.

Laurent, interviewed on the France 5 television programme C à Vous, said his notes for the new book would be “immediately un­veiled if I ever have had a car acci­dent. I will not hesitate then.”

Laurent was allegedly secretly re­corded making a demand for 3 mil­lion euros but later reducing it to 2 million after negotiations.

“Three what, 3,000 (euros)?” the lawyer asked. “No, 3 million,” Lau­rent replied, according to mobile phone recordings given to French police who monitored the meeting after Moroccan authorities filed a lawsuit in France.

Lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, representing Morocco, said Laurent contacted Moroccan palace officials informing them that he was writing a book about King Mohammed VI.

Laurent, through his lawyer Wil­liam Bourdon, denied any wrong­doing, saying he wanted a “finan­cial deal” with the king over the book but not by blackmailing him. Bourdon said his client was victim of a “trap” and “manipulation” by the Moroccan monarchy. He is ex­pected to ask for the case to be dis­missed.

On August 31st, Laurent, in an ap­pearance on i-Tele, challenged the recorded conversation, claiming it may have been “modified with so­phisticated technical means”.

However, a Moroccan official in­sisted that there was blackmail at­tempt by the French journalists.

“What about the 40,000 euros that they each pocketed?” Mounir Majidi, the personal secretary of King Mohammed VI, was quoted by the French newspaper Le Monde as saying.

Their publisher, Editions du Seuil, confirmed that the journal­ists were working on another book, which had been expected to be published in early 2016. The pub­lisher said it decided not to publish the new book, saying the “trust re­lationship” between the publisher and authors was “de facto dis­solved”. French media have report­ed that the book in the works does not contain damaging revelations.

The incident comes a few months after Paris and Rabat officially ended a year of hostility by re-establishing judicial cooperation. Ties between France and Morocco were strained after French police launched an investigation into claims the head of the Moroccan in­telligence services was complicit in the torture of activists.