The search for Facundo Astudillo Castro, the 22-year-old last seen at the end of April being detained at a police checkpoint in Buenos Aires Province, continued Friday as his relatives again expressed concern over the case.
Castro went missing on April 30 in the Villarino partido, after being stopped by police for breaking the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He was reportedly on his way to Bahía Blanca to see his former partner, though he never arrived at his destination.
The missing man’s family and their lawyers have alleged that the provincial police may have been involved in his disappearance.
On Friday, a fourth day of searches got underway, with 200 officers from different federal security forces involved in the search for the young man. Operations were deployed in the vicinity of the towns of Lieutenant Origone, Mayor Buratovich and Hilario Ascasubi.
The mother of the missing young man, Cristina Castro, said that she had been informed that activity had been detected from her son's mobile phone via antennas in Bahía Blanca, though she said it was "the phone and not my son."
“I want to know the truth and that this is over, I want to know what they did with my son," she told a local radio station.
The United Nations this week asked the Argentine government to complete an “immediate and exhaustive” investigation into Castro’s disappearance, issuing a statement via its Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) that called on Argentina to take “all possible hypotheses” into account.
The UN body emphasised that any probe should ensure "the independence of the professionals involved" and said any witnesses choosing to testify about the incident should be offered protection by the State, expressing fears that they could be intimidated.
The statement is a reaction to a request made last week by the Buenos Aires Province’s Commission for Memory (CPM), which asked UN officials to intervene.
“In accordance with the information sent to the [UN] Committee, based on the statements of witnesses and the contradictions in the accounts of the police officers from the province of Buenos Aires, it is presumed that this State force could be involved in the disappearance of Facundo,” said the CED, calling for “due diligence” to be carried out immediately.
The probe into Castro’s disappearance was being carried out under strict secrecy and little details have emerged until recent weeks, despite the fact he went missing more than two months ago.
The case is currently in the hands of Bahía Blanca Federal Judge María Florencia Marrón and prosecutor Santiago Martínez, after the initial prosecutor in charge of the case, Rodolfo De Lucía, was removed after “a declaration of incompetence.” It is now under federal jurisdiction.
It is known that the 22-year-old departed from the town of Pedro Luro and was intending to visit his ex-partner’s home in Bahía Blanca. It is believed he was hitchhiking.
Last week, photos emerged of Castro taken while he was questioned by police officers after having been stopped for an alleged violation of the lockdown. In the images, in which he is pictured from behind, standing next to a police officer and a Toyota Hilux police truck registered to the Comunal Mayor Buratovich police station.
Noticias Argentinas said in an article that at least three witnesses have said they saw Castro, with some saying he was put into a police truck, though not the one captured in the photograph. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that further witnesses were coming forward, with some outlets claiming that an individual has claimed to have driven Castro to Bahía Blanca after he was detained.
Last weekend, the Buenos Aires Provincial police force was separated entirely from the investigation after repeated complaints from the family that officers may have been involved in a potential crime.
According to reports, four police officers are under suspicion after a string of contradictions in their statements to investigators. One is said to have claimed Castro left in a truck after being stopped by officers, though he later changed his story to say the 22-year-old departed on foot. Witnesses, however, say the young man was put into a police vehicle.
“Throughout this whole month we have been led around in every way. Policemen who said one thing at the police station and then declared something else before Justice. Delays in searches. I am tired and very angry. I want my son to appear, to be found dead or alive, but to appear either way,” said Cristina Castro, in an interview with Infobae.
On Saturday a representative for the family said he did not think that Castro was alive.
“"I don't think Facundo is alive. I think he was killed and his body is hidden," said lawyer Leandro Aparicio, saying that the police truck that was now in the possession of investigators “is not the one that corresponds to Facundo's disappearance."
He also criticised Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni, saying that he had made “inaccurate” statements about the case in recent days.
Berni had said in comments to the press that to date there is "no evidence found to link Facundo's disappearance to the police."
– TIMES, with agencies