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Mexico18 October 2006

Leading journalist and magazine ordered to pay First Lady 144,000 euros in damages

Damages of 144,000 euros which journalist Olga Wornat and the weekly Proceso were yesterday ordered to pay to President Vicente Fox’s wife, Marta Sahagún, were condemned by Reporters Without Borders today as “exorbitant.”

Yesterday’s ruling by judge Carlos Manuel Jiménez Mora of the Mexico City Federal District civil court upheld the amount of damages originally awarded by the same court, which ruled last March that an article by Wornat had attacked the First Lady’s “honour and dignity” and “violated her privacy.”

“The judge’s decision on matters of substance is not in question and it is not our job to dispute the grounds for that decision,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But is it right for the courts to put such an absurdly high value on ‘honour and dignity,’ a notion which by definition is very subjective?”

The press freedom organisation added: “We think the damages award is exorbitant in relation to the harm done and would undoubtedly not have been so high if the plaintiff were not Mexico’s First Lady. We nonetheless hope this judgment will put an end to the legal battle that has dragged on for more than a year between the Sahagún family and Olga Wornat.”

Wornat has written two controversial books about the Sahagún family - “La Jefa,” published in 2003, and “Crónicas Malditas,” published last year. It was an extract from the second book which Proceso published on 28 April 2005 under the headline, “Story of a suspicious annulment.” Dealing with the Vatican’s annulment of Marta Sahagún’s first marriage, it also referred to aspects of her sex life.

The First Lady immediately sued Wornat. Another lawsuit was soon also brought by her son, Manuel Bribiesca, who was alleged in “Crónicas Malditas” to have used his family ties for personal enrichment. Placed under house arrest in a Mexico City hotel from 6 May to 17 June last year, Wornat received death threats which prompted her to file her own lawsuit.

The Federal District civil court found Wornat and Proceso guilty on 26 March of this year, and ordered them on 2 May to pay the damages demanded by Sahagún. The Federal District high court of justice subsequently quashed the damages award at the request of Wornat’s lawyers. After the Sahagún family appealed, the high court overturned its own decision on 20 September, confirming the original 26 March ruling.

In yesterday’s decision, Judge Jiménez confirmed the original sentence, which is that Wornat and Proceso should pay 144,000 in damages and publish the text of the court’s sentence in the magazine.

The outcry sparked by Wornat’s allegations about the financial practices of Bribiesca and his brother José meanwhile prompted the federal chamber of deputies to set up an commission to investigate the claims in May.

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