Trial connected to killing of Irishman comes to halt as state's lawyer arrested

Thu, Nov 29, 2012, 00:00

The only trial connected to the events surrounding the killing of Irishman Michael Dwyer in Bolivia has been halted by the arrest of the government’s lawyer for attempting to extort a US businessman held prisoner in the country.

Fernando Rivera, the head of legal affairs at Bolivia’s interior ministry, was arrested during a break in the trial on Tuesday by police investigating an alleged plot to extort money from Jacob Ostreicher.

The New Yorker has spent 18 months in a Bolivian jail since his arrest for money-laundering. He says he is innocent and has accused Mr Rivera of being the ringleader of a plot to keep him in jail long enough to steal assets seized at the time of his arrest and then extort $50,000 from him to gain his release.

Authorities detained Mr Ostreicher in June 2011, claiming his investment in a rice-growing venture was a cover for money-laundering by drug gangs. He claims he was duped by his local partner, a Colombian woman linked to a Brazilian drug trafficker.

Some land used for the scheme was owned by the trafficker’s brother.

24 hours

Following Mr Rivera’s detention, the judge at the trial of two men – Mario Tadic and Elod Toaso, who were arrested at the hotel in Santa Cruz where, on April 16th, 2009, Michael Dwyer was shot dead by police – gave the authorities 24 hours to find a new lawyer or he would throw the entire case out.

Defence lawyers have already argued for the case to be dismissed, claiming that under Bolivian law Mr Tadic and Mr Toaso should have been released on bail after 18 months detention if their trial had not concluded.

Bolivia’s government changed the law in May 2010 to extend the period to 36 months and applied it retroactively to the two detainees, but this second deadline has also expired without a conclusion to the trial.

“The investigation is full of irregularities but the trial has continued because the government is intimidating the court,” says defence lawyer Gianni Prado.

Mr Tadic, Mr Toaso and 37 others are on trial for terrorism and other crimes connected to an alleged plot involving Eduardo Rózsa Flores to assassinate President Evo Morales and foment secessionist violence in the anti-government stronghold of Santa Cruz.

Mr Dwyer was supposedly working for Rózsa Flores when they were killed along with another man in the hotel raid. Mr Dwyer’s family claims he was summarily executed and is demanding an international investigation.

Before the trial was suspended, one witness detailed how Bolivian intelligence planted small bombs that caused minor damage to the property of the cardinal of Santa Cruz and a member of Mr Morales’s MAS party.

Previously, the government claimed these attacks were carried out by the group with Mr Dwyer in the hotel when he was killed. The government used the bomb attacks to justify the hotel raid.

But Ignacio Villa Vargas, a career criminal who allegedly became involved with Rózsa Flores’s group, said he was with two intelligence officers when they planted the devices.

Once the government’s star witness, Mr Villa Vargas also said he was tortured to implicate the country’s political opposition of involvement with Rózsa Flores’s group.