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    French writers go on trial in Moroccan king blackmail case

    PARIS (AFP) – Two French journalists went on trial on Monday in France on charges of trying to blackmail the king of Morocco over allegedly demanding money to hush purportedly damaging revelations about him.

    Eric Laurent, 75, and Catherine Graciet, 48, are accused of demanding EUR2 million in 2015 in exchange for halting the publication of a book about the Moroccan royal family.

    Both writers, who face up to five years in jail and EUR75,000 in fines if found guilty, have denied any wrongdoing and say it was a lawyer representing the Moroccan royal family who first offered them the money.

    Laurent in court on Monday admitted to an “ethical error”, a “disaster” in having accepted to “let myself be caught up in this affair”, but denied having committed “any criminal offence”.

    Co-author Graciet said that the Moroccan envoy “seduced me with his financial offer, I took the plunge and I regret it”. The writers had already published a highly critical book on King Mohammed VI in 2012 titled The Predator King, which was banned in Morocco.

    Ahead of the planned publication of a second volume, Laurent in August 2015 met a lawyer representing the monarchy at the restaurant of a Parisian hotel and warned him it contained potentially embarrassing revelations for the monarchy.Morocco accuses the journalist of offering to halt the book’s publication, originally due in early 2016, in exchange for EUR3 million.

    He allegedly later reduced that amount to two million following negotiations.

    But Laurent said the lawyer representing Morocco was the one who suggested a financial deal to prevent the information from getting out.

    “He’s the one who suggests it,” he said, recounting the scene in court. After the first meeting, Morocco filed a complaint and an investigation was opened in Paris.

    This time under police surveillance, the lawyer and Laurent then met again at the same hotel later that same month. They met a third time in late August 2015 at another hotel, where they were joined by Graciet and both writers purportedly signed a deal to receive EUR2 million in exchange for not bringing out the book.

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