Mexico City: An appeals court on Thursday upheld the conviction of a French woman imprisoned in Mexico for kidnapping, a case that has ignited passions in both Mexico and France and caused friction between the two governments.
France`s foreign minister reacted strongly, calling the decision deplorable and saying it would affect relations with Mexico.
Mexico`s Foreign Relations Department rejected the charge that an injustice was done and said it regretted "profoundly" that France would allow relations to be harmed by the case.
The court said in a statement that the conviction and 60-year-sentence of Florence Cassez would stand. The court said that prosecutors had proved Cassez`s guilt in three 2005 kidnappings and that irregularities alleged by her defence attorney did not hinder the case.
Cassez has acknowledged she lived at a ranch near Mexico City where the kidnap victims were held, including an eight-year-old girl. But she said she was simply dating a Mexican arrested in the case and did not know the people at the ranch had been kidnapped.
One of the victims identified Cassez as one of her captors, and another suspect in the case said the Frenchwoman not only participated in abductions, but helped lead the gang that carried them out.
The appeals court ruled that while the victims never saw Cassez`s face, they identified her by her voice, foreign accent and hair colour.
Cassez`s imprisonment became a hotly debated issue in France after Mexican police acknowledged they staged a televised raid of the ranch in which officers appeared to rescue the hostages and detain Cassez and a Mexican man. The Attorney General`s Office acknowledged that, in fact, Cassez had been arrested the day before outside the ranch.
French Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie harshly criticised the court`s decision, saying she was dismayed by the ruling and warning it "will weigh on our bilateral relations" with Mexico.
"This decision is deplorable," Alliot-Marie added in a statement.
"None of the fundamental legal or factual elements raised by Florence Cassez`s defence were taken into account, as they should have been in a state of law," she said.
Alliot-Marie said the French government will not abandon Cassez and will explore all legal paths available.
Hours later, Mexico`s Foreign Relations Department issued a statement saying it "rejects the assertion that justice has been denied" to Cassez. It said Cassez has always been represented by several lawyers and has had consular assistance from the French embassy.