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MOROCCO

Hollande calls Morocco’s king to calm ‘torture’ row

French president François Hollande has had to step in to defuse a row between France and Morocco that began when NGO workers in Paris sued the north African country's intelligence chief accusing him of being "complicit in torture".

Hollande calls Morocco's king to calm 'torture' row
France's president François Hollande gestures while speaking during a State dinner with Morocco's King Mohammed VI in April last year. Photo: Abdeljalil Bounhar/AFP

French President Francois Hollande has telephoned Morocco's King Mohammed VI to sooth diplomatic tensions raised by civil lawsuits filed in Paris accusing Morocco's intelligence chief of "complicity in torture."

Morocco, a close ally with strong commercial and cultural ties to its former colonial ruler, had reacted furiously to the announcement last Thursday of two lawsuits filed by an NGO against Abdellatif Hammouchi, the head of its domestic intelligence agency (DGST).

Hollande called the king, who is currently touring West Africa, to reassure him of France's "constant friendship," and "dispel the misunderstandings," the French presidency said on Tuesday.

He also underlined his desire to "strengthen the partnership between the two countries."

After the lawsuits were filed, seven French policemen arrived at the Moroccan ambassador's residence to inform Hammouchi, at the time accompanying the interior minister on a visit to Paris, of a summons issued by the investigating judge.

Adding insult to injury, the Spanish actor and bete noir of Rabat, Javier Bardem, was quoted by mainstream French media on the same day citing diplomatically embarrassing comments about Morocco allegedly made by the French ambassador to the United Nations three years ago.

"Morocco is a mistress who you sleep with every night, who you don't particularly love but you have to defend," Bardem quoted him as saying, at the launch in Paris of his new documentary on Western Sahara, "Sons Of The Clouds, The Last Colony."

Morocco summoned the French ambassador on Friday to reject the torture allegations and vigorously protest the lawsuits,France's while describing the alleged comments by France's UN envoy as "scandalous and unacceptable."

The French foreign ministry moved swiftly to contain the fallout, saying on Saturday that the police visiting the ambassador's residence was a "regrettable incident" and promising to shed light on the matter. It also categorically rejected Bardem's comments.

On Monday the foreign ministry received Moroccan ambassador Chakib Benmoussa.

'Confessions under torture'

The two cases that sparked the diplomatic spat were filed by Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), an NGO based in Paris.

They relate to a pro-independence Sahrawi activist, Ennaama Asfari, who was handed a 30-year jail term in 2013 by a Moroccan military tribunal on the basis of confessions allegedly signed under torture.

A separate lawsuit accusing Hammouchi of torture was filed on Sunday in France by the lawyer of former world kickboxing champion Zakaria Moumni, jailed 17 months ago on charges of racketeering before being pardoned by the king in 2012.

Moumni said he confessed to the charges against him only because he was tortured.

On Monday ACAT sharply criticised the French foreign ministry, insisting that "in a democracy" diplomacy has "absolutely no right to interfere in the work of the judiciary."

Morocco has come under fire in recent years for allegedly failing to end the practice of torturing prisoners and of convicting them on the basis of confessions obtained through torture.

A UN special investigator said in 2012 that the torture or cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in the kingdom was "very frequent".

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MOROCCO

Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case

A French appeals court on Friday dealt a blow to two journalists accused of trying to blackmail the king of Morocco by ruling that secret recordings could be used as evidence against them.

Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case
This 2015 file photo shows the two French journalists pictured in a Moroccan newspaper. Photo: AFP

Lawyers for French investigative journalists Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet argued unsuccessfully that tapes of conversations between them and a Moroccan official were inadmissible.

“It's a very big victory,” Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for the king told AFP.

“There is no longer any obstacle to going ahead to conviction.”

Laurent, 69, and Graciet, 42, were charged with blackmail and extortion for demanding three million euros from Moroccan King Mohammed VI not to bring out a book purportedly containing damaging revelations about him.

They were arrested in Paris in August 2015 after a secretly recorded meeting with a Moroccan official at which they allegedly accepted payments of 40,000 euros each, a source close to the French investigation told AFP.

They were in possession of 80,000 euros in cash as they left the meeting, which occurred after the monarch had filed a case with Paris prosecutors.

The Moroccan government claims that the payment was the first instalment of a total of two million euros demanded by the authors in exchange for not publishing their book.

The journalists allegedly demanded three million euros initially, but reduced the figure after further negotiations. They deny the charges.

Laurent and Graciet published a highly critical book on Mohammed VI in 2012 titled “The Predator King” about his extensive business dealings which was banned in Morocco.

Their new book had been slated for publication in early 2016.

Laurent was previously recorded during two other meetings with the envoy, Hicham Naciri, a lawyer.

In an earlier preliminary hearing, the court judged the recordings were made with the “indirect participation” of French investigators “without the consent” of the two journalists, which it said contravened the principle of a fair trial.

But on Friday the court delivered its final ruling, saying police had played a “passive” role and could not be considered to have been “truly involved” in the bugging.

Investigating magistrates must now decide whether to send the case to trial or throw it out. 

READ ALSO: French journalists 'try to blackmail' Morocco king