The United Nations has asked the Argentine government to complete an “immediate and exhaustive” investigation into the disappearance of a 22-year-old who was last seen being detained at a police checkpoint in Buenos Aires Province.
Facundo Astudillo 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.
Over the weekend, the United Nations issued a statement about Castro’s disappearance through its Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), calling 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.
Marches took place in at least two towns in Buenos Aires Province over the weekend demanding the young man's re-appearance. A rally in Bahía Blanca also scheduled for this week.
The probe into Castro’s disappearance is being carried out under strict secrecy and little details have emerged in 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. The vehicle in the image has now been seized for further investigation, with searches for DNA and blood to be carried out by federal authorities in the coming days. Investigators are also said to be looking for another truck as well.
According to reports over the weekend, the mobile phones of the police officers involved in the incident have been confiscated and will be studied over the coming days.
On Saturday, 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 in Infobae, four members of the Buenos Aires Province police force 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, Facundo's mother, in an interview with Infobae.
“I hope that police hand over my son or that they tell me where they discarded him," she said Friday in a separate radio interview.
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."
No ‘cover up’
Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof said last week he was “concerned” by the case and vowed that officials would not “cover up for anyone.”
Kicillof said that his government had supported the move to separate the provincial police from the probe so that the incident could be “thoroughly investigated.”
The missing man’s family is convinced something suspicious took place. Cristina Castro says that her son called her at 1.33pm, telling her: “Mum, you have idea where I am.” She says that she told him he would be fined for breaking the quarantine and that they argued over his plan to visit his former girlfriend.
A friend of Castro’s has also shared messages with investigators that took place after that exchange, in which the missing man said he was “without signal and battery,” and would “call in a while.”