Michael Dwyer survived Bolivian shoot-out, court told
Defendant testifies he saw Irishman at Santa Cruz airport after 2009 police raid on hotel
Elod Toaso told a court in Bolivia on Friday that after an April 2009 police raid he was taken to Viru Viru airport where, despite being hooded with a T-shirt, he saw Michael Dwyer (above) alive beside him as well as a third member of their group. Photograph: PA Wire
One of the men who was with Irishman Michael Dwyer, who was killed in Bolivia in April 2009, has claimed Mr Dwyer survived a police raid on the hotel where they were staying and was likely summarily executed afterwards at Santa Cruz international airport.
Mr Dwyer (24), from Co Tipperary, and two other men were killed in the incident. The Bolivian authorities claimed he was part of a group recruited by leading opposition figures to assassinate President Evo Morales and foment secessionist violence in the anti-government stronghold of Santa Cruz.
Hungarian Elod Toaso told a court in Bolivia on Friday that after the hotel raid he was taken to Viru Viru airport where, despite being hooded with a T-shirt, he saw Mr Dwyer alive beside him as well as a third member of their group.
“I saw Michael Dwyer alive, he was to my right and Mario Tadic was to my left, also hooded. When the police realised I could see what was going on, they dragged me several metres away, beat me, they threatened me with a gun. I was brought up on to a plane by a man who saved my life,” said a visibly emotional Mr Toaso. “I heard shots, then they brought Tadic. I heard his voice – that is how I recognised him.”
Bolivia’s police claim Mr Dwyer died in a shoot-out at the Las Americas hotel.
Mr Toaso was giving evidence at his trial for involvement in terrorism along with Mr Tadic and 37 Bolivians linked to the political opposition.
Mr Toaso said he recognised Mr Dwyer by a tattoo on his arm and that he was wearing red boxer shorts. Forensic photos taken of Mr Dwyer’s body by police in his hotel room showed him wearing red boxer shorts.
On his Facebook page Mr Toaso posted a version of his testimony in which he wrote: “Dwyer was alive at the airport. Afterwards I do not know how they killed him.”
Mr Tadic corroborated part of Mr Toaso’s testimony. “I always said that before boarding the plane I heard a person pleading for help in English. The only one who spoke this language was Michael Dwyer, so there are no doubts,” he told the trial.
In a signed affidavit seen by The Irish Times in 2011, Mr Tadic said he believed that one of the three men killed in the police raid was shot dead while being transferred from the hotel to the airport, but he was unable to identify which one.
Contacted by The Irish Times, Mr Toaso’s lawyer Sergio Rivera Renner was unable to confirm why his client had waited over four years before revealing that Mr Dwyer had survived the raid on the hotel.
But he said Mr Toaso believed all his rights had been violated by Bolivia’s authorities and he no longer trusted the country’s judicial system. “We do not have an independent justice system. There is no fair process. This is a political trial directed by the government,” said Mr Rivera Renner.
Mr Toaso and Mr Tadic were with Mr Dwyer in Bolivia in the weeks before his death, part of a group led by the Bolivian adventurer Eduardo Rózsa-Flores. Police say Mr Dwyer, Mr Rózsa-Flores and Hungarian national Arpad Magyarosi were killed during the shootout at the hotel in the early hours of April 16th, 2009.
Video evidence and eyewitness testimony have since emerged to contradict the state’s version of events, leading to accusations of evidence-tampering and the bribing of witnesses.
Both Mr Toaso and Mr Tadic, a Croatian, claim they were tortured and drugged after they reached La Paz, and have taken a case against the Bolivian state at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
On Saturday Bolivia’s government dismissed Mr Toaso’s claim. “These are the tricks of an accused to change the facts of a case, but I trust the public prosecutor has the capacity to investigate these sorts of claims,” said minister Carlos Romero in an interview with the country’s state news agency. But earlier this year the case was thrown into turmoil when Marcelo Soza, the prosecutor who has led the investigation since the hotel raid, resigned following the release of secret recordings in which he discussed evidence-tampering and the blackmailing of defendants in the case by figures close to Bolivia’s vice-president.
The government said the prosecution would continue despite Mr Soza’s resignation, which defence lawyers said made a fair trial impossible.
Mr Soza’s resignation was not the first scandal to disrupt the trial. Last year the head of legal affairs at Bolivia’s interior ministry who represented the government at the trial was arrested for trying to extort a US businessman held prisoner in the country on drug charges.
Mr Dwyer’s family believes he was summarily executed, and has submitted a report to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in its quest for an international inquiry.