France Rolls Out Red Carpet For "Cause Celebre" Freed From Mexican Jail



Florence Cassez, a French woman sentenced to 60 years in jail in Mexico for kidnapping, is on her way back to France.

Cassez, 38, is expected to land in Thursday afternoon in Paris, where she will be welcomed by France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, French daily Libération reports, a day after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated during her arrest in 2005.

Cassez fue captada portando un chaleco antibalas antes de abordar la camioneta que la traslada hacia el AICM…

— REFORMACOM (@REFORMACOM) January 24, 2013

Tweet from the Mexican press: "Cassez wearing a bullet-proof jacket before she got in the van that took her to Mexico City International Airport"

In 2005, Cassez was arrested at a ranch near Mexico City with her former Mexican boyfriend Israel Vallarta, who was accused of leading a kidnapping gang called Los Zodiacos (the Zodiacs).

Cassez was then portrayed as a kidnapper by the Mexican police – something she has always denied -- and was involved in re-staging the event for a so-called "live" national broadcasting of the arrest, Le Nouvel Observateur recalls. The Mexican authorities subsequently admitted wrongdoing.

In 2008, a judge convicted Cassez to 96 years in prison in a closed-door trial with no jury, a sentenced which was then reduced to 60 years, before the Mexican Supreme Court ordered her "absolute and immediate freedom" on Wednesday, L’Express reports.

The case created diplomatic tensions between France and Mexico, reaching a peak two years ago when Mexican authorities cancelled a high-profile cultural event in Paris.

Florence Cassez became a cause célèbre in France, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his successor François Hollande both speaking out for Cassez’ liberation after seven years in jail.

The news has sparked contrasted reactions, ranging from joy – Cassez’ family, French politicians -- to outrage – families of Mexican victims of the Zodiacs gang; Cassez was freed, but not declared innocent or guilty.

WATCH the first images of Florence Cassez after she was freed from Mexico City's Tepepan prison:

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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