Category Archives: Justice

Italian court jails 24 over South American Operation Condor

Condor Family members hold photos of people who disappeared during Operation Condor, in Santiago, Chile, in 2004. Photograph: Ian Salas/EPA

An Italian court has sentenced 24 people to life in prison for their involvement in Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of six South American countries conspired to kidnap and assassinate political opponents in each other’s territories.

The trial, the first of its kind in Europe, began in 2015 and focused on the responsibility of senior officials in the military dictatorships of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina for the killing and disappearance of 43 people including 23 Italian citizens.

Those sentenced on Monday included Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who was president of Peru from 1975 to 1980, Juan Carlos Blanco, a former foreign minister in Uruguay, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, a former deputy intelligence chief in Chile, and Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli, a Uruguayan former naval intelligence officer.

Exactly how many people died as a result of the conspiracy is unknown, but prosecutors in South America and Italy provided evidence that at least 100 leftwing activists were killed in Argentina, including 45 Uruguayans, 22 Chileans, 15 Paraguayans and 13 Bolivians.

“Operation Condor spared no one,” said Francesca Lessa, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Latin American Centre. “Refugees and asylum seekers were especially targeted, while children – illegally detained with their parents – had their biological identity stolen and replaced by that of adoptive families.”

According to a database recording the crimes of the coordinated regional repression, at least 496 people of 11 nationalities were kidnapped under the auspices of Operation Condor.

Declassified documents suggest some victims were drugged, their stomachs were slit open and they were dropped from planes into the Atlantic Ocean. Other victims’ bodies were cemented into barrels and thrown into rivers.

Monday’s verdict was the result of years of pressure from the families of those who disappeared. “For decades, the victims’ relatives have been seeking justice,” Lessa said. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, impunity dominated South America, with former politicians and military officials involved in Condor Operation still enjoying immunity. Bringing them before a judge to take responsibility for their crimes was not a simple undertaking.”

The crimes took place in the 1970s and 1980s. “Many of the perpetrators were growing old and may never be brought to justice,” said Jorge Ithurburu, a lawyer for 24 Marzo, a Rome-based NGO. “The more time passed the more the witnesses of those atrocious crimes aged or died.”

Aurora Meloni, 68, whose husband, Daniel Banfi, was kidnapped and murdered in Buenos Aires in 1974, told the Guardian: “We’ve never given up and today we all won. Today’s ruling is not only for my husband … today’s ruling is dedicated to all the people killed and kidnapped under Condor.”

Prosecutors in the case drew on the precedent set in 2000 by the arrest in London of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”.

In 2016, Argentina’s last military dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and 16 other former military officials were sentenced to years in prison, marking the first time a court had proved the existence of Operation Condor.

Last April, a newly declassified CIA document showed that European intelligence agencies sought advice from South America’s 1970s dictatorships on how to combat leftwing “subversion”.

“Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor,” the document stated.

According to the human rights prosecution office in Buenos Aires, 977 former military officers and collaborators are in jail for crimes relating to Argentina’s dictatorship.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/08/italian-court-jails-24-over-south-american-operation-condor

When They See Us: Central Park Five prosecutor resigns from college post

Park Image captionElizabeth Lederer’s prosecution of five black and Hispanic teenagers for a rape they did not commit was overturned in 2002

The prosecutor of five teenagers convicted for the brutal rape of a female jogger in 1989 – depicted in Netflix’s When They See Us – has left her job at at Columbia Law School.

Lawyer Elizabeth Lederer led the prosecution, but in Ava DuVernay’s series she is seen expressing doubts about their guilt.

The boys, known as the Central Park Five, said police coerced them into confessing and were exonerated in 2002.

They were all black and Hispanic.

Columbia University’s Black Students Organisation had set up a petition asking the school to fire Ms Lederer amid outcry generated by the series.

The New York Times reported that the school’s dean emailed students saying Ms Lederer “decided not to seek reappointment as a lecturer”.

She is also a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Gillian Lester, the dean of the school, said Ms Lederer wrote that the Netflix series had “reignited a painful – and vital – national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice.”

The New York Times said the email included a statement from Ms Lederer saying she had enjoyed her years teaching at Columbia but would not be returning.

She said: “Given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application.”

The BBC has contacted Ms Lederer, Columbia Law School and Manhattan district attorney’s office for comment.

When They See Us, a four-part mini-series, has proved hugely popular on Netflix, and in the US the series has been the streaming service’s most-watched show since it debuted. In the UK it is the second-most watched after Black Mirror.

What happened in the Central Park Five case?

The victim, a white 28-year-old investment banker, was severely beaten, raped and left for dead in a bush. She had no memory of it.

Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – then aged between 14 and 16 – were arrested and interrogated for hours without access to lawyers or their parents.

They confessed to the crime but later recanted, saying their admissions were the result of police coercion.

The 1989 interrogation was conducted by another prosecutor and police.

The convictions were overturned in 2002 after a serial violent offender named Matias Reyes confessed to the attack and said he had acted alone.

A US judge in 2014 approved a $41m (£32m) settlement between the five and New York City.

This is the second job loss for someone connected with the case since the series was released.

On 4 June, Linda Fairstein, a former US prosecutor involved in the case, resigned from several boards.

She observed the teenagers’ 1989 interrogation, which was conducted by another prosecutor and police. She was Manhattan’s sexual crimes top prosecutor at the time, and has since maintained they were not coerced and defended the authorities’ conduct.

When They See Us inspired a #CancelLindaFairstein movement on social media amid renewed outcry over her role in the case.

On 8 June, Ms Fairstein, who is now a crime novelist and children’s author, was dropped by her publisher.

Two days later she wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Ava DuVernay’s miniseries wrongly portrays them as totally innocent – and defames me in the process.”

Ava Duvernay was asked about Linda Fairstein during an interview by Oprah Winfrey, and said: “I think that it’s important that people be held accountable.”

But she added: “She is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way… the real thing that we are all trying to do.. is to be able to say, ‘Go America…Let’s do this. Let’s change this.’

“You can’t change what you don’t know, so we came together to show you what you may not know.”

“That’s our goal.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48637219

India: six guilty of child rape and murder that outraged nation

IndiaA bus carrying the accused arrives at court in Pathankot, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Monday. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian court has convicted six men of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state last year, in a case that sparked outrage and criticism of the country’s ruling party after some of its members opposed charges being laid.

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, raising communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.

“This is a victory of truth,” the prosecution lawyer M Farooqi said outside the court. “The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment.”

The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men – the priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.

Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.

AK Sawhney, a lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, said they planned to appeal against the verdict.

The trial, held in private, began more than a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 45 miles from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened.

The supreme court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, held protests against police filing charges.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Eight people are accused of involvement in the case. The seventh man, named as Vishal, was found not guilty on Monday, Farooqi said, while the eighth, a juvenile, is awaiting trial.

Fake Saudi prince Anthony Gignac jailed for $8m fraud

Fraud

For years, Anthony Gignac lived a life of luxury fit for a royal.

He wore expensive jewellery, travelled in private jets or cars with diplomatic licence plates, and carried business cards referring to himself as “Sultan”.

But the story of the self-proclaimed prince finally unravelled on Friday, as he was jailed for 18 years for fraud.

A Florida judge said Gignac, 48, was a con man who posed as a Saudi royal to swindle $8 million (£6.3 million) from investors.

“Over the course of the last three decades, Anthony Gignac has portrayed himself as a Saudi prince in order to manipulate, victimise, and scam countless investors from around the world,” US Attorney Fajardo Orshan said in a statement.

“As the leader of a sophisticated, multi-person, international fraud scheme, Gignac used his fake persona – Prince Khalid Bin Al-Saud – to sell false hope. He sold his victims on hope for their families, careers, and future. As a result, dozens of unsuspecting investors were stripped of their investments, losing more than $8 million,” Ms Orshan added.

Born in Colombia, Gignac was adopted by a family in the US state of Michigan at the age of seven.

By 17, he had already started taking on the persona of a Saudi royal, using his alter-ego to con credit card companies, shop staff and investors.

According to court documents, he has been arrested 11 times in the past three decades for “prince-related schemes”.

From as early as May 2015, he has been using the name Khalid Bin Al-Saud, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida says.

To support his fraudulent persona, he purchased fake diplomatic licence plates and papers for his bodyguards. He wore traditional Saudi clothes and expensive rings and watches.

He often travelled on private jets or luxury yachts, and collected expensive artwork.

His fake life was chronicled on an Instagram account, where he shared photos of his dog sitting in designer bags and Saudi royals with captions like “my dad”.

When meeting with investors, he would refer to himself as a prince and demand that royal protocols such as gift giving were followed.

Prosecutors said Gignac used his fake royal persona to convince people to invest in non-existent business ventures around the world.

However, the scheme started to fall apart in May 2017, when he tried to invest in a luxury hotel in Miami.

Over the course of the negotiations, the hotel’s owners became suspicious of Gignac, in part because of his willingness to eat pork products that would normally be off-limits to a devout Muslim prince, the Miami Herald reports.

They then hired a private security group to investigate him, which ultimately led to a federal investigation.

Gignac pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and impersonating a diplomat, court documents show.

In her statement, Ms Orshan said “justice spoke for the victims” in Friday’s verdict.

Australia Aboriginals win right to sue for colonial land loss

imageChris Griffiths and Lorraine Jones were two of the plaintiffs who brought the case to court [Northern Land Council]

By Bill Code

Sydney, Australia – The  High Court of Australia has handed down the biggest “native title” ruling affecting Aboriginal ownership of the land in decades, amid claims that billions of dollars in compensation will need to be paid by governments to indigenous groups.

“Native title” refers to the rights of Australia’s indigenous people to their traditional land and water recognised by Australian common law.

Lawyers, including those representing mining companies, said the ruling in favour of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups – from a remote part of the Northern Territory – paved the way for billions of dollars in compensation nationally.

“The High Court’s decision will likely to trigger compensation applications from many of the hundreds of native title holder groups around Australia,” said Tony Denholder, in the wake of a case that a federal court ruled on in 2016 – before the High Court became involved.

The Native Title Act came about after the landmark “Mabo” decision in 1993 overturned the British claim that Australia was “terra nullius” – nobody’s land. It found that Aboriginal rights to some, but by no means all land, survived colonisation and were not “extinguished”.

Since then, Aboriginal groups have been able to file native title claims over large parts of the country.

Now, the High Court has handed down another landmark ruling on the matter of paying compensation for the loss of those rights – the loss of economic income related to the land and the loss of a spiritual connection to the land. Or in other words, putting a financial price on the severing of cultural ties.

In 2016, the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups awarded $2.3m in damages because the federal court found that their native title rights were “extinguished” by the Northern Territory government when it built roads and infrastructure through their country near Timber Creek in the 1980s and 90s.

About $1m of that was for “spiritual harm”, which the Northern Territory and Federal governments argued was excessive. But the High Court this week disagreed.

Megan Brayne, a native title lawyer and director of the Comhar Group, told Al Jazeera it was the most important native title ruling in more than 20 years.

“This is a very important case because it is the first time the High Court has set out the principles for compensation. State lawyers will be particularly interested in analysing their compensation liabilities,” she said.

“Where companies are operating on land post-1975 there will be lawyers looking at this.”

Racial discrimination act

That 1975 date is key because it is the year Australia brought in the Racial Discrimination Act – 18 years before the Native Title Act, but just as important.

“Only then did governments have to treat the property rights of Aboriginal Australians the same as other Australians,” explained James Walkley, a native title lawyer with Chalk and Behrendt.

“Since the first colonisation of Australia, Aboriginal people have been dispossessed of property and culture, [but] only since 1975 has the loss of native title become compensable.”

Unwittingly, state and territory governments, or mining and pastoral companies working with the blessing of the government, continued to “extinguish” native title by their activities, right up until that landmark Mabo ruling and the Native Title Act in 1993.

Others step forward

The Ngaliwurru and Nungali groups were assisted in their fight for compensation by the Northern Land Council – the major Aboriginal representative group on land matters in the Northern Territory – which took the case to court.

Interim CEO Jak Ah Kit confirmed other groups were in the works waiting to take advantage of the ruling.

“Already I’ve been notified of other groups,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is a ruling that brings a different light on native title and the cultural and spiritual loss, let alone the inability to take any economic opportunities [from the land]. We need to revisit those cases where they were unjustly compulsorily acquired by governments, and we’ll then need to take instructions from them,” he said.

“The whole board game changes.”

Brayne said while the ruling provides “significant guidance” in looming court cases, there were still many matters left open by the case, not least how to determine the appropriate amounts of compensation.

She remained hopeful agreements could be found before the more costly path of litigation.

“If not, we can expect there’ll be more matters before the courts,” said Brayne.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/australia-aboriginals-win-sue-colonial-land-loss-190315062311052.html

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking