A Frenchwoman released early from a 60-year Mexican jail term for kidnapping has said former president Nicolas Sarkozy saved her life.
Arriving back in France yesterday, Florence Cassez was careful to thank the current president, François Hollande, but made clear she considered Mr Sarkozy’s help had been crucial.
“I remember when Sarkozy took a stand in my case. It was a crucial moment. He saved my life because I went through very difficult times where sometimes I would get up in the morning and tell myself I was too tired to keep fighting,” she told French media at Paris’ Roissy airport.
“At that moment Nicolas Sarkozy arrived – and then later on, François Hollande. I owe him a lot,” said Cassez. She spoke to Mr Sarkozy by phone ahead of the court ruling and again before boarding her flight home, but aides said he was unable to meet her at the airport as he was out of the country.
Cassez, 38, was arrested in 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City with her former boyfriend, who led a kidnapping gang. She was jailed in 2008 after a trial without jury held behind closed doors. Mexico’s top court ruled the case against her was tainted because police had forced her to take part in a re-enactment of them freeing kidnap victims aired on national television. Police subsequently admitted wrongdoing.
Mr Sarkozy, who lost power to Mr Hollande in May, had long fought to secure her release, pleading in person with then Mexican president Felipe Calderon to free her. Her surprise release eight months into Mr Hollande’s presidency could instead give a fillip to the incumbent’s approval ratings, currently around 37 per cent.
He invited the Cassez family to the presidential palace and dispatched his foreign minister to greet her on the airport tarmac. But some conservatives suggested he was trying to cash in on her release. “It’s a pity Hollande didn’t mention Sarkozy, who was the one behind this,” Rachida Dati, a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party, said. Cassez was released late on Tuesday and rushed straight from her jail cell onto a flight home after Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned the original verdict.
Anti-crime activists in Mexico vigorously opposed the ruling to free her.
The wife of one kidnap victim showed up on Wednesday as reporters gathered outside the Mexico City prison where Cassez had been held. Michelle Valadez said her husband, Ignacio, was kidnapped and held for three months by Cassez’s boyfriend’s gang in 2005.
“We paid the ransom, but they killed him anyway,” she sobbed. “It’s not fair what they’ve done to us, it’s not fair they’re freeing her.”
Cassez said she lived at the ranch, but did not know kidnapping victims were held there. And, she declared, she had not believed she would be released until the last minute. Hugging her family, she said: “I have dreamt 10,000 times of this moment.”