Two French journalists were given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a 10,000 euro fine in Paris on Tuesday, found guilty of trying to blackmail the King of Morocco in 2015 by demanding money in return for the non-publication of a book.
The journalists, whose lawyers immediately appealed, denied having made any threat but admitted having made an "ethical error" by accepting a proposal for a financial arrangement from Rabat.
Already authors in 2012 of a book on Mohammed VI, "The Predatory King", Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet , aged 76 and 48 today, had signed a contract for a second volume on the same subject.
In the summer of 2015, Mr. Laurent, a former reporter for Radio France and Le Figaro Magazine and author of numerous books, contacted the king's private secretariat. This was followed by a meeting in a Parisian palace with the lawyer Hicham Naciri, emissary of the kingdom.
After this first meeting, Morocco lodged a complaint and an investigation was opened: two other meetings were then held under police surveillance on August 21 and 27.
Catherine Graciet, notably the author of books on the Maghreb and Libya, was only present at the third interview, during which the two journalists had signed a financial agreement of 2 million euros to give up the book.
At the end, they were arrested with two envelopes each containing 40,000 euros in cash.
For the court, they had a "common approach" and exerted "pressure" on the emissary, describing a "devastating" book for the kingdom. According to the judgment, "the price of silence" was indeed requested by journalists and not by the kingdom.
The three meetings had been recorded in secret by Hicham Naciri, wiretaps strongly disputed by the defense since the beginning of the instruction.
The court almost entirely followed the requisitions of the prosecution, which asked during the trial on January 17 for a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of 15,000 euros. The journalists were ordered to pay one euro in damages and 5,000 euros each in legal fees.
"Eight years after the facts, the Kingdom of Morocco has won its case and the truth of this affair is coming to light: an attempt at blackmail and manipulation", reacted in a press release Me Ralph Boussier, one of his lawyers. "We welcome this decision which brings tangible elements to the continued animosity of some people towards the Kingdom of Morocco", he added.
Deploring a "court which did not listen to us, which did not read us", Mr. Laurent's lawyer, Me Serge Portelli, said he "hoped" that the magistrates of the Court of Appeal "will try to really reflect on this manipulation which was obvious and of which our customers are victims".
"The truth will come out later," he said.
"The demonstrations of the fabrication of the proof were made throughout the debates", estimated Me Eric Moutet, lawyer for Ms. Graciet, denouncing a "tampered" recording.