On Tuesday, March 14, 2023, two French journalists were convicted in Paris of a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of ten thousand euros, for attempting to blackmail the Moroccan monarch in 2015, by demanding money in exchange for not publishing their book, which was described as scandalous.
The two journalists, whose lawyers immediately appealed the verdict, have always denied that they made any threat, although they admitted to committing a “moral error” when they agreed to the offer of a financial settlement by Rabat.
Journalists Eric Laurent and Catherine Grassier, who are currently 76 and 48 years old, respectively, published a book about King Mohammed VI entitled “The Predatory King” in 2012, and signed a contract with Le Seuil publishing house to prepare a second part on the same topic.
In the summer of 2015, Laurent, a former correspondent for Radio France and Le Figaro magazine and author of several books, contacted the King’s General Secretariat, and a meeting was organized on August 11 at a palace in Paris with lawyer Hisham al-Nasseri, the kingdom’s envoy.
After this first meeting, Morocco filed a complaint in Paris and an investigation was opened. Two more meetings were held, under security guard, on August 21 and 27.
Catherine Grassier, an author of books on the Maghreb and Libya, attended only the third meeting, during which the two journalists signed a financial agreement amounting to two million euros to give up the book.
After that, they were stopped and they had two envelopes containing 40,000 euros in cash each.
The criminal court in Paris said that the two journalists followed a “common approach” and exerted “pressure” on the envoy by talking about several matters, including a book that would be “devastating” for the kingdom.
According to the ruling, “the journalists set not only the price of silence, which is not publishing the book, but also the amount” they received.
The content of the three meetings was secretly recorded by the King’s envoy, who provided copies of the recordings to the interrogators.
These recordings, which the defense considered illegal, were the focus of a procedural battle until the Court of Cassation finally rejected the appeals submitted by the two journalists in November 2017.
There was a heated debate about these recordings during the trial on 17 November, during which the Public Prosecution Service requested the imposition of a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of €15,000 on those convicted.
The journalists were also required to pay one euro as compensation to the Kingdom of Morocco and five thousand euros as legal fees for each of them.
“It is a relief, after so many years of proceedings, to see the two accused guilty,” said Antoine Faye, one of Morocco’s lawyers.
For his part, Laurent’s lawyer, Serge Portelli, expressed his dissatisfaction with “the court that did not listen to us and did not consider us present” and said, “I hope” that the judges of the Court of Appeal will try to “think about this manipulation, which was clear and to which our clients fell victim.”
In turn, Eric Muti, Gracier’s lawyer, said, “There was evidence of fabrication of evidence throughout the discussions,” noting that the recording “was tampered with.”