HomeNewsAnalysisCoronavirus Clemency: Detainees Seek Freedom Across Latin America

Coronavirus Clemency: Detainees Seek Freedom Across Latin America


As the coronavirus crisis exposes the strains on Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded prison system, members of the region’s criminal elite are seeking temporary conditional releases and transfers to house arrest.

Yet with so much uncertainty over the duration of the crisis, just how “temporary” these transfers could be is an open question.

Here is InSight Crime’s list of the most notorious detainees seeking coronavirus clemency:

Alejandro Toledo

The former President of Peru (2001-2006) stands accused of accepting $20 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, part of a network of corruption that has implicated dozens of Latin America’s most prominent political and business figures. Toledo was arrested last July by United States Marshals in California, while he was a visiting scholar at Stanford University. Since his arrest, Toledo’s legal team has fought to prevent an extradition request that would return him to Peru.

On March 20, a US judge decided to accept Toledo’s request for release on a $1 million bail, AP reported. “The court’s concern was that Toledo would flee the country,” Magistrate Judge Thomas S. Hixson declared in his decision. “But international travel is hard now.” Hixson also noted in his decision that the US has an obligation to return Toledo to Peru alive. At the age of 74, Toledo is at risk of serious illness due to the virus.

Jessica Oseguera

Photo by Fiscalía General de la República.

Jessica Oseguera is the daughter of Mexican drug lord Rubén Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” founder and leader of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG). Oseguera was arrested on February 26 when she entered a US courthouse to attend her brother’s hearing on drug charges. A secret grand jury had indicted her on charges related to financial crimes.

Oseguera, who holds dual US-Mexican citizenship, was charged with engaging in transactions or businesses that allegedly provided financial support to the CJNG, which the US Treasury Department has blacklisted. She pleaded not guilty.

Citing the risk of contracting coronavirus, Oseguera’s attorney argued for her release on bond on March 19, offering her aunt’s California home as collateral. However, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that prosecutors alleged that Oseguera deliberately overvalued the property to mislead the court. On March 24, Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell denied the request, finding that Oseguera was a major flight risk and at low risk of serious illness, due to being only 33 years old.

Sergio Rodríguez Orellana and Douglas Bustillo

L-R: Sergio Rodríguez Orellana, David Castillo and Douglas Bustillo, as depicted in a COPINH press release.

Sergio Rodríguez Orellana and Douglas Bustillo were sentenced to 30 years in prison last December, alongside five others, for their involvement in the 2016 murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres. In an April 7 press release, the organization Cáceres founded, the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) “strongly denounced” alleged attempts by Orellana and Bustillo’s legal team to secure temporary release.

The document cites “enormous efforts” to remove Bustillo and Orellana from prison on “alleged medical reasons." The organization alleges similar attempts to stymie the case against Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who was charged with orchestrating the assassination when he coordinated security for hydroelectric company Energy Development Inc. (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. – DESA). Castillo's trial, which has seen numerous delays, has been essentially paralyzed since last April.

Dario Messer

Photo: TV Brasil

Brazilian currency trader Dario Messer was the key figure behind an international money-laundering scheme dismantled by Brazilian authorities as part of the Lava Jato anti-corruption investigation. Operating in 52 countries, the network was valued at over $1.6 billion and reached the highest levels of power in the region. Former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, who has also faced money laundering allegations of his own, described Messer as his “soul brother” and allegedly sent him $500,000 between 2013 and 2018.

Messer, 61, claimed he is at high risk of complications from the coronavirus because of his age, history of smoking and hypertension. His lawyers also said that he could put other inmates at risk, having undergone surgery in a hospital with confirmed cases of coronavirus in late March.

According to ABC Color, Federal Judge Marcelo Bretas granted Messer house arrest on humanitarian grounds on March 26. However, Bretas also stated that “this measure will be revised as soon as this emergency and exceptional circumstances come to an end”.

Peter Ferrari

Photo: Peru Police

Pedro Pérez Miranda, better known as “Peter Ferrari," faces charges in the United States for allegedly laundering billions of dollars through illicit gold. Since January 2017, he has been held in a Lima jail pending the resolution of his much-delayed case on charges that he exported 13 tons of illicit gold.

On April 13, Ferrari’s legal team filed a habeas corpus petition in Lima’s Constitutional Court, requesting his transfer to house arrest with electronic surveillance. The motion, reported by La República, claims that Ferrari’s continued detention represents “an undue and unconstitutional delay, which due to the current pandemic situation, could cause a serious impact on [Ferrari’s] health, and could even lead to his death.”

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