The Attorney General’s Office verbally threatened to “indict” three journalists, summoned for an “interview,” after they demanded the presence of their lawyers. The journalists were called in to testify in the case for the alleged crime of “money and asset laundering,” which was opened against Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, presidential candidate and former director of the closed Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh).
Maria Lilly Delgado, correspondent for the Univision network, said that until she reached the Prosecutor’s Office they informed her that she was summoned as a “witness” against FVBCh. However, when she requested the presence of her lawyer, the situation changed.
“We told them that we would each go in with our lawyers separately, but they insisted that the lawyers could not be there because we were there as witnesses. They said if we insisted in that the (defense lawyers) be present, the Prosecutor’s Office would have to change us from the status of witnesses to defendants,” Delgado said when she left the Public Ministry.
Delgado presented herself with Guillermo Medrano and Lourdes Arroliga, both former workers of the Foundation until it closed its operations, on February 6, 2021, after the approval of the Law of Foreign Agents Regulation Law to which they did not want to submit.
“We were informed that as witnesses, according to Nicaragua’s legal framework, they were not going to allow a lawyer to accompany us,” said Delgado.
Article 34 of the Constitution
Arroliga stated that the Prosecutor’s Office insisted in its offer that everyone could collaborate with their alleged investigation, but no one accepted the offer.
“We reiterated to each one of the prosecutors, that taking into account that they were changing the summons from witnesses to defendants, we adhere to article 34 of the Constitution and reserve the right to testify, since in our capacity as witnesses we were prevented from being accompanied by a lawyer,” Arroliga said.
Defense attorney Orieta Benavides explained that “to say they will change the summons from witness to defendant is a completely irregular situation. In addition, in this new condition, they have not been informed what they have been charged with.”
“It is completely unknown what the charge is, which now, in this new situation, they are making against each one of the accused,” Benavides highlighted.
According to the journalists, the Prosecutor’s Office did not give them another appointment with an exact date; however, they told them that if they were required again, they will be called back.
Case against Chamorro
The Ministry of the Interior (MIGOB) has indicated that the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation committed “clear signs of money laundering,” after allegedly finding inconsistencies in the financial reports of the NGO.
Last week, Chamorro Barrios attended an appointment at the MIGOB and upon her departure she described the charge against her a “set-up” and a “macabre and terrible action” that seeks to incriminate her “in something that is completely false.”
On Monday, the Ortega court froze all her bank accounts and ordered the lifting of the banking secrecy of the presidential candidate, according to a denunciation by Cristiana Chamorro, via Twitter.
“I am a reporter”
Delgado recalled that her work in Nicaragua is as an independent correspondent for the Univision network, but that she has also carried out work in the modernization of journalism through different organizations.
“I have been an independent journalist for more than 28 years and have worked as an independent journalist for my country. I do not know what they could accuse me of. I do not know what money laundering they are talking about,” she highlighted.
“Receiving training is not a crime”
In the afternoon, the former director of Channel 100% Noticias, Veronica Chavez, also attended the Prosecutor’s Office. She was summoned as a witness. The lawyer Eyling Cruz expressed that there was a change in the treatment they gave her in comparison to Delgado, Arroliga and Medrano.
Chavez was allowed to enter with her lawyer and remain as a witness. According to what the journalist told the media after her hearing, the questions were directed to know whether the channel had any kind of relationship with the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
“I am not afraid because I have not committed any crime and therefore, I am not a criminal. I am simply a journalist and previously as the owner of the channel we limited ourselves to reporting. Regarding arbitrariness, it is already known that every day we live under siege and putting ourselves at risk,” Chavez told the media.
Cruz explained that the focus of the investigation revolves around the relationship that the different media outlets have had with the Foundation.
“The investigation is directed to the media that has received any type of training from the Foundation or some donation,” explained Cruz, to which Chavez added that no media should be harmed, because “receiving training is not a crime.”
Also in the afternoon, the director of Radio Corporación, Fabio Gadea Mantilla, appeared, explaining that in his statement he said that the FVBCh has provided them with technical assistance and equipment.
“(I told them) that we received technical assistance and equipment when we needed it and that it was to promote democracy (…) They were very polite and kind,” Gadea said briefly after leaving the Public Ministry.
The radio station owner said with this statement closed his participation in this investigation being carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office. He discarded that he will be summoned to appear again.