12 Aug 2011

The Author

Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.

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Guatemalan Judge Mario Fernanda Peralta Castañeda “Captured,” Found with 15 Illegal Weapons, Charged with Trafficking
Juez Mario Castañeda Peralta, detenido (Photo from Prensa Libre)

Juez Mario Castañeda Peralta, August 12, 2011 (Photo from Prensa Libre)

At 6:00 a.m. this morning in Escuintla, Guatemala, a coordinated team consisting of  agents from the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the Ministerio Público, and the Guatemalan National Police (PNC) went to Judge Mario Fernando Peralta’s home and “captured” him, charging him with the following:

“asociación ilícita, trata de personas, prevaricato, conspiración y denegación de justicia, por conformar una estructura de personas que actuaban con el ánimo de lucrarse con la adopción irregular de la niña Dafne Nayeli Camey Pérez  (Yajaira Noemí Muyus, nombre dado con fines de adopción irregular).”

That’s unlawful association (racketeering), human trafficking, malfeasance/breach of public office, and the “denial of justice,” and acting within a structure dedicated to profiting from the illegal adoption process of  the stolen child Dafne Nayeli Camey Pérez, who had was in the process of being laundered into an orphan with the false identity of “Yajaira Noemí Muyus.” The crime was uncovered before Dafne left the country as “Dafne,” and she has since been returned to her mother and family.

According to Norma Cruz from Fundación Sobrevivientes, Judge Peralta is linked to 23 different cases of human trafficking, largely related to laundering children as adoptable orphans through improper declarations of legal abandonment.

CICIG is acting as “querellante adhesiva” in this case, which means complementary prosecutor alongside prosecutors from the Ministerio Público. They say they’re attempting to demonstrate the criminal involvement of the following people, who they say are linked to the “criminal organization” involved in the foiled “Yajaira Muyus” adoption:

  • Iris Magaly Muyus
  • María Beatriz Armas Galindo de Ortega (lawyer)
  • Juan Carlos Pinillos García (lawyer)
  • Susana María de la Asunción Luarca Saracho (lawyer, also known as “Susana Luarca”)
  • Enriqueta Francisca Noriega Cano (Asociación Primavera)
  •  César Augusto Galicia Prera (government official from the Procuraduría General de la Nación, or PGN)

Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre has an article about the arrest and capture here, and reporters Coralia Orantes and Hugo Alvarado noted the following,

En abril de 2007, Dafne fue presentada ante Peralta, quien omitó ciertos procedimientos para declarar en abandono a la niña con el fin de que pudiera ser adoptada, lo cual no llegó a concretarse gracias a que la progenitora logró reconocer a su hija y pudo recuperarla.

In April of 2007, Dafne was presented to Peralta, who ommitted certain procedures in order to declare the child abandoned in order for her to be adopted, which didn’t happen because her parent recognized her and reclaimed her. (my translation)

According to CICIG, Dafne was called ”Yajaira Muyus” when she was presented to Judge Peralta on April 26, 2007. He subsequently assigned legal for the child to the nursery Asociación Primavera, which is associated with the outspoken Guatemalan adoption lawyer Susana Luarca.

Dafne’s mother recognized her on May 30, 2008. I’m not sure yet how, exactly, she found her daughter, or how she got her back.

Right now, Fundación Sobreviviente is holding a press conference about Judge Peralta’s arrest. He was also responsible for sending the child known as “Karen Abigail” to Asociación Primavera, in connection with the case I’ve written about here, here, and here.

I’ve previously written about the Yahaira Muyus case here. You can check out the full CICIG press release on their website here. An older Prensa Libre piece, from July 8, 2011, is here: “Un Abogado y un Empleado de la PGN Ligados a Proceso” (A Lawyer and an Employee of PGN Linked to Process”).

Last August, I sat down with Judge Peralta, who told me he was completely innocent. Parts of the interview– including answers about people he associated with– were off the record. We talked for around two hours. If I have time, I’ll upload audio clips later.

12:00 PST UPDATE #1: As of noon, Prensa Libre is now reporting that 15 weapons were found in another house where Judge Peralta lived. 

2:30 PST UPDATE #2: A confidential source in Guatemala says that the guns were military-issue “escopetas,” or shotguns. Apparently, this source says,  a stash of bullets and a machine used to illegally refill cartridges were also found, similar to this one below. Authorities will attempt to trace both the guns and the bullets found in the home. 


[RL550B.jpg]

3:00 PST UPDATE #3: Another judge, Marta Sierra, has ruled that Judge Perlata should go free. She said that the MP and CICIG did not demonstrate that the Peralta was a member of an “illegal structure.” He is now said to be back at work at the Minor’s Court in Escuintla. The updated Prensa Libre story is here, and mentions that the guns were found in Zone 8 of Mixco, in San Cristóbal. Peralta’s family says the guns are used for sport.

Judge Marta Sierra, January 2008 file photo from ElPeriodico

In 2008, Judge Sierra provoked the ElPeriodico headline, “MP recusa a juez que conoce caso Bancafé: Las últimas resoluciones de la juez Marta Sierra de Stalling no han sido del agrado de los investigadores” (My rough translation: “MP challenges the judge hearing the Bancafé case: The latest rulings by judge Marta Sierra de Stalling [sic] have not been welcomed by investigators”). An excerpt:

“Estamos preocupados de que continúe el caso con la misma jueza, para que no se ponga en peligro la credibilidad del sistema de justicia en este país”, argumentó el fiscal general, Juan Luis Florido. Aseveró que dudan de la imparcialidad de la juez.”

“We’re worried that if the case continues with the same judge, we will endanger the credibility of the justice system in this country,” argued [Guatemala's] Attorney General Juan Luis Florido. He asserted that the impartiality of the judge was in question.

An anonymous source involved in the investigation, capture, and prosecution of Judge Peralta said the following to me:

“Es decepcionante, pero estoy acostumbrado a que las cosas no funcionen así que hay que seguir.” (Rough translation: It’s disappointing, but I am used to things that don’t work, so one must go on.”)

An appeal of Judge Sierra’s ruling on Judge Peralta is expected for next Wednesday or Thursday.

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