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January 09, 2005

01/10/05 – How Colombian Judges Ruled

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

IT 01/10/05 How Colombia Case Judges Made Ruling
IT 01/10/05 SF Not Letting Finger Of Blame Crack Its Composure
IT 01/10/05 Governments Determined To Keep Door Open To SF
IT 01/10/05 North Talks Can Be Revived, Says Blair
SL 01/09/05 Sunday Life Comment: Orde Rightly Copping Flak
EX 01/09/05 Opin: Time For Taoiseach To Get Tough


How Colombia Case Judges Made Ruling

The men in the Colombia case were convicted because appeal judges ruled that the circumstantial evidence was against them, reports Deaglán de Bréadún, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Differences of legal interpretation and greater tolerance for acknowledged defects in prosecution testimony lay behind the reversal of the original court decision in the case of the so-called Colombia Three.

The process by which a verdict of not-guilty on a charge of training FARC guerrillas became a guilty one on appeal becomes clear in the text of the appeal tribunal verdict, which has been seen by The Irish Times.

Whereas Judge Jairo Acosta, who oversaw the original trial, ordered two key prosecution witnesses, both of them alleged FARC deserters, to be investigated for perjury, the appeal tribunal accepted their evidence as true, while admitting there were contradictions in their testimony.

In reaching his verdict, Judge Acosta placed considerable importance on discrepancies and inconsistencies in the prosecution evidence as regards the dates on which particular events allegedly took place. But in its written judgment the appeal tribunal considered such discrepancies an understandable consequence of a witness's isolation.

The three Irishmen, James Monaghan (59), from Co Donegal, Martin McCauley (42), Lurgan, Co Armagh, and Niall Connolly (39), Dublin could not be traced after the appeal verdict was issued in Bogota last month.

The original verdict in the case was issued by Judge Acosta in the Colombian capital last April 26th. The three men were acquitted on the main charge of training the FARC, but were given sentences of between 26 and 44 months for possession of false passports.

The Public Prosecutor, Dr Carlos Sanchez Peinado, appealed the verdict and the men were given conditional liberty with orders to remain in Colombia pending the result of the appeal. In an appeal ruling issued last December 16th, the not-guilty verdict on the charge of training the FARC was reversed. McCauley was sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment and a fine of approximately $210,000, and Monaghan and Connolly were each sentenced to 17 years and six months and fines of approximately $240,000.

Both Judge Acosta and the appeal tribunal agree that there was insufficient direct evidence to convict the three men. But the tribunal accepted the prosecutor's contention that the sum of the circumstantial evidence interpreted as a whole was sufficient to prove their guilt.

The appeal judges - or at least a majority of them, since one of the three is said to have dissented from the ruling - were not convinced of the three men's claim that they were tourists, because they did not appear to have the income to fund their travels.

According to the transcript of the appeal verdict: "None of these three people could satisfactorily show what they do in their countries of origin that would be able to fund the costs of a trip around the world, stopping off in several cities in various countries, if as they say they are merely travelling"(Irish Times translation from Spanish).

In the original trial, Judge Acosta had been so unimpressed by the evidence of prosecution witnesses John Alexander Rodriguez Caviedes and Edwin Giovanny Rodriguez that he ordered a perjury investigation.

But in its judgment the tribunal states "it is not about discarding or taking on board the testimonies in their entirety, but to pick out the elements that can be proved and are related to what is being judged".

In the case of Mr Caviedes, the tribunal admits "there are discrepancies in some of the dates" and "there are some inconsistencies regarding the presence of the Irishmen in the FARC-controlled area" (the so-called demilitarised zone temporarily ceded to FARC during the now-defunct Colombian peace process). The witness contradicts himself, saying he had not been present at training courses given by the Irishmen, which he previously claimed to have attended. But the appeal judges were tolerant of the discrepancy. The evidence of this witness could not be discounted despite "many inconsistencies".

In reaching their verdict, the appeal judges said: "This is a man who has been without permanent contact with civilisation for a long time and this has caused him to be confused about months and year, as he has not had any need to follow the calendar nor write reports requiring him to know the date. This is not important information for him and it makes no difference to him whether it is one year or another."

In this appeal ruling, the tribunal makes much, on circumstantial grounds, of the fact that the three accused were reported to be in such a remote location because "not even the most meticulous thought process could explain any other motive for being in such an area which was unknown to them, in such an isolated hamlet in a solitary woodland, other than that to commit the crime".

The tribunal accepts the evidence of RUC witnesses that the accused, or some of them, had "key knowledge" and "expertise in home-made explosives".

The use of false documents to enter Colombia carried great weight with the tribunal: "This is clear evidence that the accused were trying to hide their true identity, not because of possible persecutions that they may have been subject to but precisely because they were planning to carry out illegal activities and the last thing they wanted was to be recognised either as terrorists in the case of the first two, which is information that police agencies around the world possess, or in the case of the third for being a representative of Sinn Féin, a party which opposes the British government and which has given support to terrorist groups."

Summing up, the tribunal states: "Although the individual pieces of evidence do not stand up completely on their own, the analysis should be carried out of all of the pieces of evidence together. The role of the accused in the crime or crimes can be certified from such an analysis."

The use of non-conventional explosives was a "speciality" of the Provisional IRA. "The Irishmen did not come to learn about the peace process when the peace process in their own country was far more advanced."

© The Irish Times


SF Not Letting Finger Of Blame Crack Its Composure

Sinn Féin is brazening out the Northern Bank robbery, but it must know that if it really wants power-sharing it will have to deliver more comprehensively than ever before, writes Gerry Moriarty, Northern Editor

Sinn Féin, when under the lash, as it so assuredly is now after the IRA was fingered by Hugh Orde for the £26.5 million Northern Bank raid, generally responds in two ways: as victim and as brazen pup.

Most often, the victimhood card is emphasised, but while we have heard plenty of the usual hackneyed phrases about so-called securocrats conspiring against republicans, this time there is a greater focus on playing the defensive line brashly and boldly.

For instance, on RTÉ Radio at lunchtime yesterday, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, was telling interviewer Gerald Barry as clearly as he possibly could that he believed the Sinn Féin leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness knew about the planned IRA robbery during the recent political negotiations.

"This was a Provisional IRA job. This was a job that would have been known to the leadership, this is a job that would have been known to the political leadership. That is my understanding," Mr Ahern said.

To avoid any doubt, Barry asked further: "And known to the political leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly and all the others with whom you negotiated?"

"Certainly in the leadership," the Taoiseach replied.

Now that is a heavy-duty allegation. It says that right in the middle of intensive and protracted negotiations aimed at restoring devolution - in which the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs had invested great faith in Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness - the two Sinn Féin leaders were acting in absolute bad faith with them.

Serious stuff, but did it discommode Sinn Féin's policing spokesman, Mr Gerry Kelly, who, in a BBC Radio Ulster lunchtime debate, was alerted to Mr Ahern's claim? Not a bit of it.

"What Bertie Ahern is doing is electioneering," said a very relaxed Mr Kelly. "He has done an awful lot for this peace process . . . but that does not mean I am going to sit here and take comments which are attacking Sinn Féin which are absolutely and totally false. I will not do it."

So Sinn Féin's strategy for the moment is clear. It stands behind a protective wall stating that the chief constable has no evidence to back his allegation; that in any case "securocrats" are up to their usual games; that unionists can huff and puff all they like but, without Sinn Féin, devolution is simply not going to happen.

On the latter point, Sinn Féin is right. Politicians such as the Rev Ian Paisley and Mr Peter Robinson have urged the SDLP to stand aside from Sinn Féin and join them in an executive from which republicans are excluded.

Many politicians and commentators argue reasonably that there is a huge moral issue here which transcends politics: that the more you attempt to square the circle between republican politics and paramilitarism, the more society is corrupted, and that now is the time to marginalise Sinn Féin, because "Sinn Féin has marginalised itself".

The SDLP leader, Mr Mark Durkan, is conscious of that dilemma and did not hesitate in accepting Mr Orde's attribution of blame and in attacking republicans. But he is not prepared to move ahead without Sinn Féin because he knows that that is the road to political suicide for the SDLP. That's realpolitik.

A Sinn Féin spokesman was graphic when also insisting that there could be no devolution without his party. "Anyone who thinks you can have a political process without Sinn Féin has their head - let me put this politely - where it shouldn't be."

So we are now facing into a fairly sterile political period. A bout of recrimination will have to be gone through. That could take us into the autumn and maybe beyond. Of course, a little sackcloth and ashes from republicans - together with assurances that, with a deal, all IRA activity, including criminality, will end - might more quickly open up renewed possibilities.

Despite the bitter blame game, the two governments will have no option but to return eventually to drawing Sinn Féin and the DUP into a power-sharing administration. Sinn Féin was in contact with Downing Street and Government Buildings over the weekend. Thus, notwithstanding the harsh words, lines of communication remain open.

"They need us and we need them," said a senior republican source. Which is all very true. But what is also true is that, if there is ever to be a deal, republicans must provide more than what was on offer to Dr Ian Paisley in December and more than what was on offer to David Trimble in October 2003.

The irony is that every time the IRA allegedly engages in some brazen act, whether robbing the Northern Bank or in Stormontgate, republicans must deliver more comprehensively to end direct rule and allow Sinn Féin into government in the North.

There must be a lesson there for Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness.

The Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams (left), and the Sinn Féin chairman, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, during a break in the party ardchomhairle meeting in Dublin on Saturday.

Photograph : Matt Kavanagh


Governments Determined To Keep Door Open To SF

The Irish and British governments have signalled their determination to hold the door open for future Sinn Féin involvement in the political process, despite accepting privately that the prospect of early progress towards a deal has now gone. Mark Brennock, Chief Political Correspondent, and Gerry Moriarty, Northern Editor, report

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said yesterday he believed that when he was involved in political negotiations with the Sinn Féin leadership before Christmas, they knew that the Northern Bank robbery was being planned. "This was a Provisional IRA job. This was a job that would have been known to the political leadership."

The Sinn Féin chairman, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, complained that Mr Ahern's remarks were a "direct attack on the integrity" of Sinn Féin leaders Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness. "Many nationalists and republicans will be deeply disappointed that the Taoiseach has chosen to believe the British and to jump on to the DUP bandwagon of blame."

Mr Ahern described the IRA's alleged involvement in the £26.5 million robbery as "a very serious setback" which had undermined public confidence once again.

"That makes life difficult, but the question is do we keep going. We have to, but it doesn't make life easy."

Notwithstanding the atmosphere of bitter recrimination, Sinn Féin was in contact with Dublin and Downing Street over the weekend, and both governments remain convinced that devolution can only work with Sinn Féin in the administration.

But for that to happen Sinn Féin and the IRA must now more transparently demonstrate that republicans are eschewing paramilitarism and criminality, according to the governments.

The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, said yesterday: "It can't be 99 per cent giving up violence. And it certainly can't be 80 per cent giving up violence, it has got to be 100 per cent."

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern, echoed the Taoiseach's remarks.

Asked if the door was still open to Sinn Féin in relation to future political talks, he said: "Oh, of course ... we must keep at it."

Mr Dermot Ahern will meet Northern Secretary, Mr Paul Murphy, later this week to assess the situation, and the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister are expected to meet within a fortnight.

However, sources in both governments indicated that there was no current plan to revive the political process in the wake of the PSNI chief constable's statement that he believed the IRA had carried out the robbery of the Northern Bank.

© The Irish Times


North Talks Can Be Revived, Says Blair

Gerry Moriarty, Northern Editor

The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, has said it is still possible to revive the collapsed political process but that it can only happen based on a copper-fastened republican commitment to end paramilitarism and criminality.

Mr Blair said that unionists were "entirely justified" in refusing to share power with Sinn Féin after the PSNI chief constable said the IRA was responsible for the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery.

But while unionists called on the British government to somehow exclude Sinn Féin from the political process, Mr Blair said it was still possible to achieve a comprehensive political agreement. The onus for progress, however, lay with republicans.

"Unionism has accepted now that it must share power with republicans and nationalists. But it is entirely justified in saying it will not share power unless there is a definitive end to all forms of paramilitary activity or criminal activity by one of the parties that is associated with a paramilitary group," said Mr Blair.

"It can't be 99 per cent giving up violence, and it certainly can't be 80 per cent giving up violence, it has got to be 100 per cent," he told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday.

A senior London source added: "The onus is now on the republican movement. We want to move forward but the message has to be very clear that there is no prospect of progress unless such criminality and paramilitarism completely ends."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin chairman Mr Mitchel McLaughlin reacted angrily to the Taoiseach's claims that the political leadership of Sinn Féin knew about the planned Northern Bank raid even as it was negotiating the recent failed political deal with the governments.

"This is a direct attack on the integrity of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Many nationalists and republicans will be deeply disappointed that the Taoiseach has chosen to believe the British and to jump onto the DUP bandwagon of blame.

"That the Taoiseach should do this, after years of working closely with this party's leadership in the peace process, is a grave blow and will be an encouragement to all those, particularly in the DUP, who have consistently sought to attack and undermine the efforts for peace," added Mr McLaughlin.

He said the Sinn Féin commitment to the peace process had been "the dynamic sustaining the process and moving it forward". Sinn Féin would not be deflected from this, but the task was "made more difficult when the governments attack our leadership in this way", Mr McLaughlin said.

DUP deputy leader Mr Peter Robinson and other unionists over the weekend said that the SDLP now had a "moral responsibility" to join with the DUP and Ulster Unionists in an Executive and to see Sinn Féin excluded from the administration.

SDLP leader Mr Mark Durkan, while accepting that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank raid, rejected these overtures.

"Sinn Féin last week called on everyone to move on without the DUP. The DUP this week is calling for everyone to move on without Sinn Féin. The SDLP isn't going to follow any of these parties. We're going to stand as we always have done, for the Good Friday agreement, and for getting it fully implemented despite the obstacles that Sinn Féin, the IRA and the DUP have put in its way," he said.

Mr Durkan said that while "the IRA has got itself millions of pounds they also have almost bankrupted the chances of the people of Ireland getting all of the agreement".

© The Irish Times


Sunday Life Comment: Orde Rightly Copping Flak

09 January 2005

SO, now we know. It was the IRA that plundered the vaults of the Northern Bank.

What we don't know, of course, is why it took the Chief Constable so long to confirm what everyone knew.

Hugh Orde's handling of this whole sorry affair leaves a lot to be desired. His long silence undermined public confidence in his force's ability to catch the culprits.

It is difficult to imagine a Chief Constable anywhere else in the UK who would adopt a "no comment" stance for so long, following such a major crime.

Mr Orde's spokesmen said after the raid that he would speak when he had something to say.

No one believed - in their wildest dreams - that it would take almost THREE WEEKS for him to break his silence on the crime of the century.

The fall-out from the raid is set to run for some time, as the bank destroys its notes, the PSNI pursues the raiders and politicians press for Sinn Fein's head on a block.

If detectives bring early charges, Orde may yet weather the storm. If they don't, he may, in the weeks and months to come, have more to worry about than threats to his 15 per cent annual performance bonus.

And, for that, he has no-one but himself to blame!


Opin: Time For Taoiseach To Get Tough

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern’s unequivocal claim that Sinn Féin leaders knew during recent power-sharing talks the IRA was planning the £26.5 million Belfast bank heist will count for nothing unless he is prepared to impose sanctions.

Otherwise, what is the point of saying “this was a Provisional IRA job” or that it was “known to the political leadership”.

Apart from being upset to learn the leaders were aware of those plans at a time when he was engaged in intensive talks with them, Mr Ahern insists the priority must be to keep the peace process going.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair concedes that unionists are justified in refusing to share power with Sinn Féin unless there is an end to paramilitary activity.

Where does the Taoiseach draw the line?

By claiming the raid was known to senior politicians in the republican movement, he has imputed the guilt by association of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in both kidnapping and the biggest robbery ever committed on these islands.

Will he go on talking if that happens in the Republic? The Taoiseach should stop sitting on the fence and do some tough talking for a change.

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Table of Contents - Jan 2005
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