French writers face Morocco blackmail charges
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.