Attorney for some of the political prisoners says that the Public Prosecutors’ Office can’t prove either the alleged conspiracy against the State or the money laundering charges.
HAVANA TIMES – In an 11-day period, the Public Prosecutors’ Office formally charged 35 opposition leaders with “Conspiracy”. This latest series of arrests began at the end of May, and all of the accused have been held incommunicado, most in jail, and a few under house arrest. The legal proceedings against them have been plagued with anomalies, as their defense attorneys have denounced.
Those accused include six prominent figures who were aspiring to run for president: Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Miguel Mora and Medardo Mairena. Before their arrest, all had announced their intention of competing for the presidential nomination, so as to face Daniel Ortega in November’s scheduled elections. Ortega, the current ruler, is seeking his fourth consecutive term in office.
Maynor Curtis is an attorney who has defended political prisoners. He questions the form in which the hearings against the 35 opposition leaders have been conducted. One of his main criticisms is that the judge came to the “El Chipote” jail, where the accused have been imprisoned, instead of holding the hearings in a regular courtroom as the law stipulates. He also noted that some hearings were held in the wee hours of the morning.
The following interview with Attorney Maynor Curtis was broadcast via YouTube and Facebook, as part of the online television news program Esta Semana. In the interview, Curtis explains that the accusations lack legal substance, and that up to now, the Prosecution hasn’t managed to prove the alleged crimes.
The political prisoners are either accused of money laundering or conspiracy against the Nicaraguan state. However, the lawyer indicates that the evidence presented by the Prosecution is mainly judges’ validation records, plus witness statements from the police, or from people who “have nothing to add” to the investigation.
You participated as a defense lawyer in four hearings that were held in the jail where the political prisoners are being accused and processed. Do the prisoners have a right to defend themselves?
They have a right to defend themselves, and the irregularity here is that they should have been taken to the courthouse, not have the judge come to the El Chipote [jail]. The penal law establishes that the judge can travel, but only to perform their task when the accused or the witness is sick, or where it’s an inspection.
Is the Judicial Power subordinate to the Police?
No, it’s an independent power that should be doing things independently of the Police. I found it very strange to be given an appointment to go to the El Chipote jail to be present for the hearings. It’s the first time this has happened, in the cases of the political prisoners.
You’ve been present in at least three of the hearings. What’s the basis of the Prosecution’s accusations for the supposed crime of Conspiracy against the National Sovereignty?
Really, the accusation in itself and the elements of proof don’t even touch on what that Conspiracy against the State might be. (…) Rather, the accusation and the evidence have to do with records of occupation, search reports, judges’ validations, testimonies from people who don’t add anything to proving those crimes. There are other details that I can’t reveal because I’m involved in the process. In time, when we go to trial, you’ll discover the situation.
In the hearings where the Prosecution is filing accusations of presumed money laundering, have they investigated or presented any proof – such as illicit funding from drug trafficking, or from organized crime that the accused received and covered up?
That’s one of the principal points in the defense of each one of the accused. Up until now, the Prosecution hasn’t presented the way in which they’re going to prove the illicit origin of the money. This wasn’t seen in the interchange of information about the evidence, nor in the accusation itself.
As far as I know, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation received money from certain governments. One of their contributors was the United States, and to mention a few more, Germany and the Netherlands. Here, the Public Prosecutors have the job of proving that the money donated by these governments had an illicit origin. And I don’t believe they’re going to be able to do that. Hence, I don’t believe they’re going to be able to prove that it’s a case of money laundering.
As far as the evidence that we’ve received from the Prosecutor’s Office, the majority of it is based around testimonies from Police officials, records of occupation, validation statements, but none of them contribute to proving the specific crime of money laundering. The starting point of that crime is that the money received has an illicit origin and that has to be proven, not just said.
In these audiences and trials, are the defense lawyers and the accused allowed to object to alleged evidence, or to present other arguments, enter other records, and have justice done?
From the time the hearing is held, we have 30 days to present any documents or evidence in favor of the accused. I speak of 30 days, because in all the hearings where I’ve participated, these preliminary hearings that were held around 5 in the morning, the judge, at the prosecutor’s request, approved what is called “complex procedures”. That implies the duplication of all the normal deadlines.
Normally, we’d have 15 days, but due to this declaration of “complex procedure” we have 30 days. The judge then has six months, during which they can keep the accused in jail, before issuing a verdict or a sentence.
So, from the moment of the hearing, the defense has 30 days to present any type of evidence in their client’s favor. And we can refute the Prosecution’s evidence since our legal system permits that.
Some analysts of this process look at the way the accused were captured, then kept isolated in jail – some for more than 90 days – and now are being tried in jail. They conclude that the courts won’t be portioning out justice here, but a sentence that’s already been determined. As a defense lawyer, how do you view this?
I’m going to speak from the experience I’ve had in the last three years with the cases of political prisoners. Even when there isn’t sufficient proof, and the Prosecution hasn’t demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused, they’re going to be found guilty. And they’re going to be sentenced to prison. That’s a reality we’ve seen, because in the majority of the criminal cases I’ve seen and where I’ve been the defense attorney, in perhaps over 90% of these, they’re declared guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and given a prison sentence.
Do the judges have a timeline for issuing a verdict?
Yes, in this type of crime, the judges have 3 months. However, since the hearings judge declared them “complex proceedings”, the deadlines are doubled. So in this case, the judges have six months to reach a verdict or a sentence. The timeline begins from the moment of the hearing, that in this case was held on September 1st and 2nd.
That’s what the law stipulates, but considering the political factors that predominate in these trials, might the judges issue their sentences in a shorter time?
Of course, they can do so in a shorter time. It could be that we hold the defense exchanges in September, and that the trial is called in October. In that case, we could have a verdict in less than two months. But in the cases of the political prisoners, this has never happened. The judges always use up all the time, and in some cases additional time.
So now, the [judge] has a six-month deadline for issuing a verdict or sentence for the detained person. If that date passes, they risk having to free the detainee, and the deadline will be extended for another six months. However, in my experience as a lawyer, I’ve seen cases of the political prisoners where the maximum period expires, but the process still continues. They don’t free the accused while the process continues, and the person remains detained, causing an illegal detention.
Can the international tribunals be appealed to after these processes, for denial of justice or for having exhausted the national path for achieving justice?
Once the Nicaraguan judicial path is exhausted, we can appeal to any type of tribunal whose jurisdiction is accepted in Nicaragua, and we can bring the case there. Not only because of delays in justice, but also for human rights violations, violations of the defendants’ constitutional rights, and of the rights enshrined in five international instruments, among them the San Jose Pact and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.