Judge Luden Martín Quiroz, of the Ninth District Court of Managua, ruled former presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro and two former workers of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCH), Marcos Fletes and Walter Gomez, guilty of the fabricated crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood, misappropriation, and improper retention, and money and assets laundering. The driver, Pedro Vásquez and former legislator Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, were ruled guilty of the fabricated crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood, misappropriation, and improper retention.
The court ruling was revealed on Friday, after seven days of hearings. The Prosecutor’s Office requested eight years in prison for Cristiana Chamorro, 13 years for Marcos Fletes and Walter Gomez, seven years for Pedro Vasquez, and nine years for Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. This, despite not proving any crimes were committed by the accused, said the defense lawyers.
Prosecutor’s Office bases its accusation on a preliminary report
On Thursday, the prosecution presented Captain Jairo Ramírez Carrion, an expert of the Economic Investigations Directorate (DIE) of the National Police, as a witness responsible for preparing the financial analysis on the case against the Foundation, on which the accusation rests. However, the 99-page document indicates on the first page that it is a “preliminary report,” something that was ratified by the same expert when consulted by the defense lawyers.
“He said that it was a preliminary report and that he only looked at suspicious activities, but he never said that this is money laundering,” the sources indicated. “When you have a final report, you already have your own conclusions, but when the report is preliminary, it means that the investigations are advancing, but have not concluded. Therefore, to decide a verdict based on this report is absurd. You cannot condemn someone when it is a preliminary report because maybe, in the end, it turns out that they are not guilty, if this were not a political trial,” they stressed.
The main conclusions of the document of the expert of the Ortega Police indicate that the former president of the FVBCH allegedly “used other investigated people to serve as necessary collaborators for the theft of funds coming from donations.” In addition, there is an amount of 2.2 million cordobas and 303,003.76 dollars of which “their alternative labor or economic activity that originated this monetary retribution is unknown.”
However, the defense argued that these claims are provisional, to such an extent, that the “bank deposits have no time, date, nor the branches where they were deposited, nothing. How are you going to say that you received 500 cordobas in your account, if I don’t tell you what day they were deposited and at what time?” They questioned.
The expert was certified by USAID, the main donor of the FVBCh
In showing his technical credentials to support his suitability as a certified public accountant, Captain Ramírez Carrión even presented a training certificate from an auditing course financed by the United States Agency for International Cooperation, known as USAID, which was the main donor of the Chamorro Foundation’s projects. When asked if he considered the USAID funds to be illicit, he responded that under no circumstances could it be considered dirty money.
The report also claims that the money that entered the Foundation went out as “support to financed media outlets with the purpose of creating programs that destabilize the Government through false news, and that in order to avoid detection, a façade of legal appearance was created, when in reality, the Foundation financed televised media or digital and radio platforms in an underhanded manner, with the objective of maintaining the flow of funds between the Foundation and the coup groups and opportunistic media.”
The media outlets mentioned included Channel 12, 100% Noticias, radio stations, and CONFIDENCIAL, which according to the regime’s accusation, were financed with USAID funds with the objective of “creating a media opposition bloc” to affect the Nicaraguan State. This version of events, coming from the Public Ministry, is in line with the narrative of the Ortega regime, which claims to have been the victim of a failed coup d’état, hiding the orchestrated repression against the civic rebellion of April 2018.
Ministry of the Interior’s contradictory report
On Wednesday, Franya Urey Blandón, head of the Registration and Control of Associations of the Ministry of the Interior (MIGOB), acknowledged that she “was unaware” of the “specific reasons” for the accusations against the political prisoners during her testimony in the trial, but also pointed out that this state entity was unaware of the origin of the Foundation’s funds.
In a brief report —in the possession of Confidencial— they noted that the Foundation violated the Foreign Agents Regulation Law because it was not registered as such, despite being “required” because “they received funds from the United States.” However, the same document affirms that—based on an “analysis of the financial statements for the periods 2015-2019”—the FVBCH “did not specify the origin, implementation, and destination of the funds,” although they indicate that the donations came from the US and Switzerland.
Luis Hernández Mendoza, a financial analyst of MIGOB who was summoned on Wednesday, also failed to explain what techniques he used to identify the alleged “irregularities” found in the Foundation’s financial reports.
Throughout the trial, 20 police officers, two MIGOB workers, and nine citizens have testified. The latter affirmed that their relationship with the FVBCH was totally honest, transparent and correct. While in the case of the police agents, contradictions, disparities, and a lack of knowledge about the investigations of the case were evident.
Nine months in prison
The former president of the FVBCH was arrested on June 2 of last year. She was charged for the alleged crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood in real concurrence with “money laundering,” after a State report pointed out that the Foundation allegedly transferred funds for the strengthening of media outlets between 2017-2020 to individuals and organizations that seek “the destabilization of the good progress of the economic and social development of the country.”
The main point of the indictment is that the FVBCh allegedly received 150 million cordobas from donors between 2015 and 2019, but they had in the banking system 190 million cordobas. (35.5 cordobas = 1 USD.)
Among the beneficiaries for the alleged destabilization of the Nicaraguan Executive, the Prosecutor’s Office listed 13 independent media outlets, four non-governmental organizations and seven journalists.
This articles was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times