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ARGENTINA | 13-05-2024 15:08

Death of Santiago Maldonado: Courts reopens case, sidelines Judge Gustavo Lleral

Comodoro Rivadavia federal court rules out a forced disappearance but accepts appeal from dead youth’s family and human rights organisations questioning impartiality of magistrate leading case.

The federal appeals court of Comodoro Rivadavia has decided to reopen the court course of the 2017 death of Santiago Maldonado, which was closed last November with the acquittal of all those involved.

Judges Javier Leal de Ibarra and Aldo Suárez of the Patagonian court also separated Federal Judge Gustavo Lleral from proceedings, admitting an appeal by relatives of the dead youth and human rights organisations opposing the case’s closure.

Federal Judge Federico Calvete of Ushuaia will be responsible for investigating Maldonado’s death from now on, according to local reporting. He will be the third magistrate to take charge of the case.

The Maldonado case was a watershed for the Mauricio Macri Presidency and for Patricia Bullrich as Security minister. 

The youth disappeared in August 2017 after joining a Mapuche indigenous community protest that blocked a road in the province of Chubut. The Border Guard fell under the spotlight nationwide and the victim’s body was found 11 weeks later in the Chubut River.

An autopsy concluded that Maldonado’s death was due to "drowning in the waters of the Chubut River," ruling out any intentional slaying. That was Lleral’s main argument for closing the case and acquitting all those indicted in 2018, but the victim’s family appealed the decisión.

In September, 2019, the Appeals Court revoked the acquittals, affirming that the closure of the case had been "premature." At that point, the magistrates had already ruled out the hypothesis of forced disappearance while calling for an investigation of the circumstances in which Maldonado drowned.

The initial hypothesis, pushed by numerous lawsuits since 2018, “had already been devoid of any support since it found, as its main support, a testimony that could not be endorsed by any means,” said the judge in their latest ruling.

The federal appeals court also said that the investigation had long been "inactive" besides pointing out Lleral’s "reticence to exhaust all the evidence at his disposal."

The court ordered that all lines of investigation unexplored until now be probed “to finish clearing up the questions that had arisen after the autopsy, and thus conclude the investigation.”

The chamber also ordered the production of pending evidence requested by the plaintiffs, which include Sergio Maldonado, the victim's brother. 

“It does not escape our notice that the passage of time works against the success of investigations, especially with the present characteristics, and nor do we ignore the right corresponding to the indicted to obtain a verdict, thus ending as rapidly as possible the situation of uncertainty and undeniable restrictions implied by facing a criminal trial without overlooking that no motive has been verified by the ‘new evidence’ produced, thus making it unnecessary for the investigation to continue in the direction adopted in 2019,″ warned the ruling. 

Sergio Maldonado expressed his opinion on social media after the news of the reopening of the investigation broke.

 "The Santiago Maldonado case has been transferred to Tierra del Fuego. They want us to keep our distance. We should be grateful that they did not send it to the Antarctic, covering the country for access to justice,” he wrote in a post on the X network.


– TIMES/NA

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