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Colombia24 October 2002

Jaime Garzón’s murder : serious doubts about prosecution testimonies

(JPEG) An independent enquiry by Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network has raised serious doubts about the main testimonies in the prosecution case against Juan Pablo Ortiz and Edilberto Antonio Sierra, who are being held for the 13 August 1999 murder in Bogota of journalist Jaime Garzón (photo) of Radionet and Caracol TV. The two organisations are therefore calling for a new investigation into the case.

The independent enquiry found that none of the four main prosecutions witnesses is credible, although their statements were largely responsible for the investigating judge’s decision to charge Ortiz (also known as El Bochas) and Sierra (also known as Toño).

The four witnesses are María Amparo Arroyave, Wilson Llano (also known as The Teacher), Maribel Pérez and Wilson Raúl Ramírez. Their initial statements were supplied to judicial investigators by the Administrative Department for Security (DAS), an intelligence service under the president’s authority. The fact that these statements lack credibility therefore raises the possibility that the DAS deliberately misled investigators.

In Colombia, the DAS and the Service for Judicial Investigations and Intelligence (SIJIN), which is attached to the Defence Ministry, are both able to participate in judicial investigations as well as the judicial police, which is called the Technical Corps for Investigation (CTI). With the agreement of the prosecutor’s office, all three agencies formed an inter-agency commission in August 1999 to investigate the Garzón murder.

Disappearance of leading witness

Arroyave, who is the leading witness implicating Ortiz, supposedly saw the killer and his accomplice as they were making their getaway on a motorcycle just after the murder. She claimed to have had a "perfect" view of the killer’s physical appearance and clothes, down to the make of his boots. In a suspect lineup, she even ruled out one suspect on the grounds that he had a mole "and the killer did not."

Nonetheless, Arroyave contradicted herself about the killer’s features in her various statements, changing the shape of his eyes, his eyebrows, his face, his nose, the colour of his skin and his stature. Her testimony has also been discredited by an inspection of the building from which she supposedly saw the killer and his accomplice. This revealed that the closest the killer could ever have been to her windows was 30 metres. The inspection was requested in January 2000 in order to verify her claims, but did not take place until December 2001 as the DAS had until then refused to say where her apartment was located. The inspection finally took place in Arroyave’s absence, and she therefore could not be questioned about her claims. Furthermore, those who carried out the inspection did not have access to Arroyave’s apartment, instead visiting the one below it in the apartment building.

An eye test of Arroyave requested by the prosecutor’s office in January 2000 has never been carried as she has only reappeared once after the witness lineup held that month at which she identified Ortiz as Garzón’s killer. Today, even the prosecutor’s office witness protection programme claims not to know where she is.

She has not responded to any of the four summonses sent to her since January 2000. She has been under the responsibility of the DAS since the start of the investigation, but the DAS has twice said that she was not in Bogota and that her whereabouts could not be revealed. The office of the attorney general, which is in charge of monitoring the actions of state agents, said in February 2002 that in general, "neither those in charge of investigating the case nor the witness have shown any interest in providing judges with any explanation about the depositions against the accused."

Doubts about the three other testimonies

The enquiry by Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network has also cast serious doubts on the credibility of Llano, who has had a central role in the official investigation.

Llano is a DAS informer, and it was the DAS that passed his initial statement to the investigating judge, Eduardo Meza. Llano claims to have supplied DAS agents with "key evidence and information for opening an investigation into the suspects." He is said to have given the Medellin office of the DAS photos of Ortiz and a statement implicating him in the Garzón murder.

Llano also claims to have convinced the other two witnesses, Pérez and Ramírez, to testify against the two suspects. Pérez is his fiancee and Ramírez is his neighbour.

They stated that Ortiz and Sierra had entrusted a firearm to them on 10 August 1999 and had come to recover it two days later (the day before Garzón’s murder). They said Ortiz and Sierra arrived on a motorcycle dressed in the kind of warm clothes you would wear for Bogota’s altitude and that they alluded to a "job" they had to do in the capital. Pérez added that, shortly after the murder, the two presumed killers came back to her house, where they counted a sum of money and mentioned Garzón.

However, on 15 August 2000, Ramírez retracted his statement, claiming that Llano had threatened to kill him if he did not stick to his false testimony. He said Llano hoped to receive the reward being offered by the authorities for such decisive testimony and, at the same time, hoped to take control of Medellin’s San Javier district, where Ortiz and Sierra held sway. Ramírez further maintained that Pérez’s testimony was also false, and that it had been made in exchange for promises from Llano.

There are other reason’s for questioning Llano’s credibility. He is currently detained in Medellin on charges of extortion. Even Pérez has described him a "killer" and as someone who is "twisted, who works for both sides." Furthermore, the day before Garzón’s murder, he was arrested for possession of sufficient quantities of hashish and marijuana that he was liable for prosecution. Although he could have received a sentence of six to twenty years, he was released the next day for reasons that are unclear.

The present status of the judicial proceedings

The investigation was deemed to have been completed on 2 January 2002. The investigating judge in charge of the case concluded that Carlos Castaño, the head of the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), was behind the murder, that Ortiz fired the shots and that Sierra drove the motorcycle. Ortiz was arrested in January 2000, Sierra was arrested in September 2001 and a warrant for the arrest of Castaño was issued in June 2000.

The motive for the murder is supposed to have been Garzón’s participation in negotiations to obtain the release of persons kidnapped by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Castaño is alleged to have seen this as playing into the hands of the guerrillas. He is also supposed to have thought that Garzón received money in exchange for these services.

After the investigation was declared to have been completed, the case was sent to the judge of the seventh special court of Bogota. This judge however ruled on last 16 September that the case did not fall within his competence on the grounds that the murder was not an act of terrorism and the motive had nothing to do with the fact that Garzón was a journalist. He therefore sent the case to an ordinary court, which in turn declared itself incompetent on the grounds that, contrary to the seventh special court’s view, it was an act of terrorism. On 23 October, the supreme court ruled that the case should be handled by a special court.

Did the DAS try to mislead the investigation?

There are several questionable aspects to the DAS’ behaviour in the course of this investigation. Why did Arroyave not respond to any of the judicial summonses since January 2000? Why did the DAS refuse to bring her before the investigating judge since January 2000? Her unavailability seriously prejudiced the case by preventing investigators from interrogating her again and conducting an eye test. Why did the DAS refuse to reveal the exact location of her home until the end of 2001? Why were the testimonies of Llano, and the two other persons persuaded to testify by Llano, deemed to have been entirely credible by the DAS?

As several grounds have emerged for seriously doubting the credibility of these four prosecution witnesses, Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network are concerned at the possibility that there was a deliberate intent on the past of the DAS to mislead this investigation. Under threat of a prison sentence at the start of the investigation, Llano may have been induced to cooperate with DAS in this endeavour and to produce the desired information in exchange for having charges against him dropped.

The two organisations also question the conclusions reached by the prosecutor’s office. How is it that the prosecutor’s office accepted Arroyave’s testimony when it was unable to question her or carry out an eye test after her identification of Ortiz in January 2000, and there were serious doubts about her statements as a result of their own contradictions and the inspection of her supposed location at the moment of the murder? Similarly, how is that the judge accepted the testimonies of Llano, Pérez and Ramírez despite the doubt cast on them by Ramírez himself and the nature of Llano’s profile?

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network are all the more troubled by the position of the prosecutor’s office and the DAS in view of press reports referring to testimonies implicating the military that were ignored by the investigators. According to these reports, certain sectors of the army supposedly reached an agreement with Castaño, the AUC leader, to eliminate Garzón, and that the murder was carried out by La Terraza, a gang of hit men active in Medellin.

This case has engaged Colombian society in an unprecedented way, and Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network will do their utmost to ensure that persons not involved in the murder are not used as scapegoats, as this would just play into the hands of the real killers.

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network therefore recommend that:

-  The office of the attorney general should investigate the possibility that the DAS misled the Garzón murder investigation and that the prosecutor’s office was negligent in accepting the statements of the prosecution witnesses.
-  The DAS should explain why it transmitted four false or extremely questionable testimonies to the investigating judge.
-  The prosecutor’s office should open a new investigation into the Garzón murder in the light of the information contained in this press release.
-  The Colombian authorities should guarantee the security of all those involved (judges, investigating judge, attorneys, investigators and witnesses) who are likely to be in danger during the trial or in the event of a new investigation.

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