Mexican court frees French woman jailed for 96 years

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 24, 2013 11:30 hrs

London, Jan 24 (IANS) A French woman who was initially sentenced to 96 years in jail by a Mexican court over a kidnapping in 2005 has been freed after Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that her rights were violated.

Florence Cassez, now 38, was arrested Dec 8, 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City where several hostages were found. She denied knowledge of the kidnappings, carried out by a gang - the Zodiacs - led by her Mexican then-boyfriend Israel Vallarta, who confessed to his crime, BBC reported Thursday.

Cassez had denied the charges levelled against her and many irregularities were found in the case, including a staged televised police raid.

The latest verdict resulting in her freedom came as three judges on a Supreme Court panel of five voted to have Cassez released immediately.

When first convicted, she was jailed for 96 years. But later, a court of appeal reduced the term to 60 years.

The case had provoked tensions between Mexico and France. French authorities had tried to extradite her, but the move was blocked by the Mexican government.

In a statement, President Francois Hollande said the decision marked the end of a "particularly painful period".

"France thanks all those who, in Mexico as well as here at home, have fought so that truth and justice prevail," said Hollande who spoke to Cassez by phone Wednesday evening.

Her mother Charlotte told a French television the case had been full of suspense right to the end. "It's an explosion of joy. I can't quite believe it," she said after her daughter's release.

Cassez was driven to Mexico City's international airport, where she boarded an overnight Air France flight to Paris.

Her lawyer Frank Berton described it as "a historic day for Mexican justice".

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