August 29, 2015 / 11:20 AM / 2 years ago

French journalists probed on suspicion of blackmailing Moroccan king

Morocco's King Mohammed VI holds a book during a visit, at the presidential palace in Abidjan June 2, 2015.Thierry Gouegnon

PARIS (Reuters) - Two French journalists have been placed under formal investigation after Morocco's King Mohammed filed a complaint accusing them of attempting blackmail by threatening to publish a book about him, a judicial source said.

The king's lawyer, Eric Dupont-Moretti, told RTL radio that Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet were arrested on Thursday after a police sting in which he said the journalists received a payment and signed a contract for not publishing the book.

The French judicial source told Reuters the two freelance journalists, who had previously published a book criticizing the monarch, were placed under investigation on Friday evening and released from custody overnight.

Graciet's lawyer Eric Moutet, speaking to BFM TV, urged prudence regarding the accusations. "Conspiracy or not, I don't know," he said. "What is clear is that they were enticed into a trap."

Under French law, being placed under formal investigation indicates there exists "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime.

Dupont-Moretti said that during a meeting with a member of the king's entourage the journalists asked for 3 million euros ($3.4 million) not to publish the upcoming book.

He said he then filed a complaint with the French prosecutor, and police set up the sting to trap the reporters.

Dupont-Moretti did not say what information the new book contained. The pair's first book published three years ago was entitled "The Predator King" and focused on corruption in the Morocco.

Reporting By Gerard bon; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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