Trial over death of Irish man Michael Dwyer collapses in Bolivia

Tipperary man was shot dead during police raid on hotel in Santa Cruz 11 years ago

The criminal trial that followed the police raid in Bolivia which left Irish man Michael Dwyer dead has collapsed after prosecutors dropped all charges against the 39 accused.

Mr Dwyer (24) was killed alongside two others in a raid by an elite police unit on the hotel where he was staying in the city of Santa Cruz on April 16th, 2009. Two other men were detained.

Judge Sixto Fernández said on Tuesday that all 39 accused were “declared absolved” after public prosecutors and the interior ministry told the court they were withdrawing terrorism-related charges against them.

The 27 accused who were present at the hearing, many of whom spent years in jail on remand in violation of the Bolivian constitution, held an emotional celebration in the courtroom with family members.

The Bolivian government claims Mr Dwyer was part of a terrorist group that planned to assassinate President Evo Morales and foment separatist tensions in the east of the South American country. Mr Dwyer told his family in Co Tipperary he went to Bolivia to do a bodyguard training course.

Bolivian authorities had always used the ongoing trial to stall on a commitment it gave the Irish Government to participate in an international investigation into Mr Dwyer’s death.

His family says it has gathered evidence which proves he was summarily executed by police. A separate case it has taken against Bolivia is proceeding at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In 2015 the two men arrested in the police operation, Hungarian Elod Toaso and Bolivian-Croatian Mario Tadic, pleaded guilty to complicity in armed insurrection in return for sentences of time already served. But after leaving Bolivia they said they had only agreed to the plea deal in order to get out of jail and denied any involvement in terrorism.

Both men and four others who took similar plea-bargain deals were among those absolved on Tuesday.

Corruption charges

Explaining why it was dropping charges, prosecutors pointed to the 12-year sentence for corruption and extortion against Marcelo Soza, the original prosecutor in charge of the case.

Since he fled into exile in Brazil he has claimed the case he built against the men was manipulated at the direction of senior officials in the Morales administration.

Prosecutors also pointed to accusations that Mr Morales’ former interior minister Carlos Romero had sought to manipulate one of the trial’s judges. Mr Romero is under arrest on other unrelated corruption charges.

The collapse of the terrorism case comes three months after Mr Morales went into exile after nearly 14 years in power. He fled amidst widespread unrest following revelations electoral authorities under his command had interfered in his bid to secure an unconstitutional fourth term in office.

Lawyers for the 39 accused in the terrorism case had long maintained that the only reason the case had continued so long, in violation of the country’s constitution and international human rights treaties signed by Bolivia, was due to political pressure from the Morales administration.

Bolivia is due to hold fresh elections for a new president and national assembly in May.