Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Callejas Lauded for Pleading Not Guilty in FIFAgate

Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero, National Party member and former president of Honduras (1990-1994), pleaded "not guilty" in a Federal Court in Miami, Florida to charges of money laundering racketeering, and bribery.

Honduran news paper La Tribuna labeled that a "master strategy". The reason why tells us a lot about justice in Honduras.

On December 3, 2015, the US Department of Justice unveiled charges against 16 more defendants in its on-going investigation into corruption in international soccer in the criminal investigation that is known as FIFAgate.  FIFA is the FederaciĆ³n Internacional de Futbol Asociacion.

The 16 new defendants were charged with 92 counts, including money laundering, racketeering, and wire fraud conspiracies.  The charges were announced after the overnight arrest in Switzerland that morning of the FIFA vice president, Alfredo Hawit, a Honduran citizen charged in the same indictment as Callejas.

Rafael Callejas, a member of the FIFA Television and Marketing committee, learned through the Justice Department release that he had been named in the indictment.

Subsequently the US government filed formal paperwork with the government of Honduras to extradite him to the United States.

Callejas originally decided to remain in Honduras and fight extradition, but on December 14 he boarded a private plane on a flight for Miami to turn himself in and face the charges.  The Honduran press later revealed that US Ambassador James Nealon had helped negotiate Callejas's return to the US.

On his arrival in Miami, Callejas was formally arrested and transferred to a holding cell.  Callejas was arraigned the next morning and pleaded not guilty to all charges.  Some Honduran press accounts had him returned to a holding cell. La Tribuna indicated that he traveled with a briefcase full of documents that name names as part of his proposed defense strategy.

Which brings us to the "master strategy" that La Tribuna announced in its December 21 edition.  We quote:
The defense of the ex-president, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, is resorting to a “master strategy”, legally speaking, by advising him that he declare himself not guilty, because now the US government must present its evidence, an expert told LA TRIBUNA.

At first glance this may not make sense to readers. In the Honduran legal system, despite judicial reforms, there is still an understanding that those charged with a crime who claim to be innocent must prove their innocence. The idea that the government always has to prove the guilt of the accused, fundamental to the US legal system, is thus not the norm, but rather, something that La Tribuna is seeing as the result of a great strategic move: pleading "not guilty" rather than "innocent".

In fact, La Tribuna helpfully expands on this understanding of the US legal system, seen through this peculiar Honduran lens:
The difference between the declaration of innocent and "not guilty" rests in the fact that in the first case, the accused has to present evidence to show directly his innocence; while in the second, the burden of proof is transferred to those who accuse him, according to the source.
Under the scenario of "not guilty”, it will be the federal attorneys of New York and the US Department of Justice that must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate the guilt of the ex-leader, he added.

Think for a moment of the understanding of court procedure that this flawed explanation is reinforcing. Cleverly, Callejas is moving, not to prove his own innocence, but to challenge the accusers to come up with enough evidence to prove he is guilty. And it gets worse:
If they do not succeed in proving the charges, the judge will have no other alternative than to absolve him... although the case could remain open if in the future new evidence were to emerge, the interviewed expert specified.
The fact that bail has been accepted is a sign that the strategy worked, initially, but the decisive hearing will be the 16th of March, when the government attorneys will formally present the charges with the evidence of guilt, the source added.

There you have it: a Honduran vision of justice. The rest of the article offers the "information" that Callejas won't have to wear an orange jumpsuit because those are reserved for terrorists and violent criminals; and emphasizes how expensive the legal defense will be. But don't worry: his excellent legal team has come up with the brilliant strategy of pleading "not guilty", so now the prosecution is on the ropes...

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