Netflix star Israel Vallarta held in Mexican prison for 17 years without trial
When French national Florence Cassez was convicted in 2007 in Mexico of kidnapping charges that she denied, the story made headlines globally.
Florence was subsequently sentenced to 60 years in prison and her story quickly became one of the most controversial criminal cases in Mexican history.
Numerous irregularities and a bizarre staged police raid resulted in French authorities campaigning for her release, as Florence maintained her innocence.
Now, the shocking case is at the centre of Netflix's latest true crime series, A Kidnapping Scandal: The Florence Cassez Affair, which examines the case that divided opinion across the world.
In 2013 the Supreme Court ordered Florence's release from prison after ruling that her rights had been violated.
But while the documentary focuses on Florence Cassez, the French national was arrested alongside her Mexican boyfriend Israel Vallarta, and his case is a controversial one too.
Here's who Israel Vallarta is and where he is now.
Who is Israel Vallarta?
Israel Vallarta is a Mexican national accused by police of being the leader of a kidnapping ring called Los Zodiaco, which he denies.
On December 8 2005, Israel was arrested by Mexican police alongside his French girlfriend Florence Cassez as they drove along a highway.
The couple were detained by police, and nearly 24 hours after their initial arrest they were taken back to the ranch they lived in, where TV news and camera crews waited for them.
Police forced the couple to participate in a shocking re-enactment of their arrest, which was broadcast on TV. During the broadcast, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI could be seen rescuing three kidnapping victims from Vallarta's home.
After the arrest, Vallarta confessed to being the ring leader of the kidnapping gang, but said that Cassez was not involved.
However, Vallarta would later claim that he had been forced to sign a false confession after being tortured.
Is Israel Vallarta still in prison?
Israel Vallarta has been held in prison for the past 17 years, but still awaits his trial and sentencing.
He is being held in preventative detention at the Peunte Grande maximum security prison, Federal Center for Social Reintegration Number 2.
Preventative detention is the practice of incarcerating accused individuals before their trial on the assumption that if released, they would be likely to commit additional crimes.
After her arrest, Cassez requested to be sentenced as soon as possible and separated her case from Vallarta's in 2007.
As a result, she was tried and sentenced to 60 years in prison that year, but after years of campaigning from French authorities she was released in 2013 when the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that her human rights had been violated.
Meanwhile, Vallarta is still awaiting his sentencing. From 2008 to 2009 he was defended by private lawyer Alejandro Cortés Gaona but when the process stalled he decided to defend himself. He later accepted a court-appointed lawyer who has been representing him since.
In 2020, Vallarta was briefly released from prison and admitted to hospital after he tested positive for Covid-19 but was later re-admitted to prison after his health improved.
Vallarta initially confessed to being the leader of the kidnapping gang Los Zodiaco, but in March 2006 he refused to recognise his previous statement, claiming that he had been forced to sign a confession after being tortured.
EN VERO, a Canadian charity that works to prove the innocence of people who have been arrested or incarcerated unjustly, reported that Israel alleges that the Mexican judicial authorities “are the true organised crime with a badge, which in recent years has damaged Mexico so much”.
Mexican digital newspaper SDP Noticias also reported that between 2008 and 2011, Israel had two brothers and three nephews who were detained and accused of kidnapping, but all were released after being proved innocent.
Vallarta and his family continue to call for his release, and last year his wife Mary Sainz spent more than a month camped out in Mexico City as she campaigned for his freedom.
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