The lawyers for José Enrique Rais, a prominent El Salvador businessman who US authorities tied to suspected drug planes seized in Martin County, Florida, responded to allegations of wrongdoing of their client with questions about the seizures and personal attacks on one of the journalists who investigated and wrote the story.
The aircraft -- three airplanes and a helicopter -- are part of an ongoing investigation US local and federal authorities have launched against Rais. (See story here) They seized the aircraft after K9 units detected drugs in at least one of them, and the Martin County Sheriff's Office petitioned a judge on April 21, to allow the authorities to keep hold of the aircraft while the investigation continues. InSight Crime obtained the petition (pdf), which is public record (and available here).
Rais has not been formally charged with a crime in the United States, and in an email in response to InSight Crime's request for comment about the petition, Attorney Jonathan David in Miami said his client has not committed any crimes.
"Neither the Rais Group nor José Enrique Rais or any associate of his have committed any crime, and accordingly deny any such allegation," he said, referring to Rais' conglomerate, which has several businesses, including a waste management service known by its acronym MIDES.
David also said that the Martin County Sheriff's office did not clearly determine a cause to inspect any aircraft.
"In terms of the facts of the matter at hand, the seizure of the aircraft by Martin County sheriff was based upon registration irregularities, per the documentation presented to the court for permission to enter the premises (Fla. Stat. 329.01), and a preliminary hearing -- even to determine if there was any probable cause for the County's actions -- has not been had," David wrote. "There has been no judicial determination of any fact whatsoever."
(See David's full response below)
Both David and Rais' attorney in El Salvador, Enrique Gutiérrez, also attacked Hector Silva, one of the journalists who investigated and wrote the story for InSight Crime and Revista Factum. Silva is an editor-at-large for InSight Crime and the co-director of Factum, a web-based media outlet and an InSight Crime collaborative partner.
Rais' attorneys warned Silva of the implications of "libelous statements," and imply that Silva is responsible for the US allegations.
"The only basis for the actions of the Martin County sheriff has been false 'tips' from unreliable sources such as yourself or people whom you know personally, and whom you know to have made the damaging false allegations," David wrote to Silva, who had written the request for comment.
Gutiérrez was equaly direct.
"What is surprising to us is that you, without being part of the investigations into the supposed wrongdoing, knew about the these [allegations] before our laywers in the United States, procedures and investigations that should only be the knowledge of the authorities that are doing [the investigation]," he wrote to Silva.
(See Gutiérrez's full response below in Spanish)
Both lawyers insinuate that Silva is part of the investigation because of his father's relationship with parties interested in MIDES. Silva's father, Hector Silva Arguello, was the mayor of San Salvador between 1997 and 2003, and was part of a deal in which a waste management company named CINTEC signed a public services contract with 10 Salvadoran municipalities. The deal was administered in part by the Inter-American Development Bank, which also helped oversee the project.
The owners of CINTEC were Franco Pacetti and Mateo Pasquale, two Canadian businessmen. They later partnered with Rais and formed MIDES but have since had a falling out and are suing Rais. Rais has filed a countersuit, and a prolonged legal battle between the parties continues.
However, Silva Arguello was no longer mayor when Rais joined the company. There were no investigations into Silva Arguello for anything regarding the waste management project, and no one has accused him of corruption. The former mayor died in 2011.
Still, Rais' lawyers insinuate this legal fight between Rais and his former partners -- Pacetti and Pasquale -- is what is behind the allegations against their client in Florida.
"[This] is the product of an extorsive and desperate campaign, initiated years ago by people that you as well as my client know, had relations with your father, the Honorable Hector Silva, and now these relations are inherited by blood to you because of these same interests," Gutiérrez wrote, referring to the Canadians.
This is not the first time Rais and his lawyers have targeted Silva. In April, the businessman sued Silva in El Salvador for libel based on several earlier stories by Silva in Factum about the Rais' relationship with Luís Martínez. Martínez, while he was attorney general of El Salvador and his office was handling multiple lawsuits between Rais and his former partners, flew on Rais' aircraft more than a dozen times, according to his own testimony. These same aircraft are among the airplanes the Martin County Sheriff's Office seized.
In their email responses to the claims made against their client by the Martin County Sheriff's Office, the lawyers for Rais do not mention this potential conflict of interest. Nor do they offer any proof of their claims against Hector Silva.
Silva, in a response to the lawsuit written for Factum, says the lawsuit is designed to silence him.
Rais' US-based Attorney David's Response:
Dear Mr. Silva:
The undersigned attorney represents Mr. José Enríque Rais, and Rais Group international NC, LLC, and is writing this email to you as a formal response to your message to him of earlier today.
As a journalist, I am sure that you are aware that the publication of libelous statements is legally actionable where such statements are published with actual malice. In the case of your reporting on my client Mr. Enrique Rais, it is common knowledge that you are not unbiased in this reporting, and intend to do him harm, since your father was friends with the Italian Canadians who, as you well-know are perpetuating these falsehoods against my client in a scheme to extract money from him. In fact, we believe (and intend to prove) that you are the source or conduit of most of these falsehoods to the authorities.
In terms of the facts of the matter at hand, the seizure of the aircraft by Martin County sheriff was based upon registration irregularities, per the documentation presented to the court for permission to enter the premises (Fla. Stat. 329.01), and a preliminary hearing -- even to determine if there was any probable cause for the County's actions -- has not been had. That is to say, there has been no judicial determination of any fact whatsoever. The only basis for the actions of the Martin County sheriff has been false "tips" from unreliable sources such as yourself or people whom you know personally, and whom you know to have made the damaging false allegations. A thorough "sweep" was performed by the authorities and nothing culpatory was found.
To be even more clear: neither the Rais Group nor Jose Enrique Rais or any associate of his have committed any crime, and accordingly deny any such allegation. As you well know, Mr. Rais is being systematically extorted by your father's Italo-Canadian friends. And you are knowingly using your guise "reporting" to engage as a co-conspirator in the extortion scheme.
It is likely that you will be subpoenaed to appear before the court, to answer the question of how you have knowledge of the sheriff's filings even before the parties in interest (my client and others) have been informed.
Govern your actions accordingly.
Rais' El Salvador-Based Lawyer Gutiérrez Response:
Estimado Señor Silva Avalos:
En relación al presente correo y con instrucciones precisas de mi representado, queremos expresarle que nos causa extremada sorpresa, como usted tiene conocimiento de un procedimiento de investigación del cual no es parte procesal, no obstante sabemos muy bien que sobre este tema usted es parte activa de la fuente que lo origina muy a pesar de que constituyen investigaciones que se siguen en forma clasificada y/o reservada en los Estados Unidos de America.
Nos llama la atencion como puede ser posible que usted sin ser parte en las Investigaciones de supuestos hechos delictivos inconsistentes, pueda tener conocimiento inclusive antes que nuestros abogados en los Estados Unidos, sobre procedimientos y actos que solo competen a las autoridades que las tramitan.
Sin embargo sobre ese tema le comento que ya esas autoridades de aquel pais y mi representado, tienen conocimiento sobre la fuente que originó esta insostenible e insustentable Investigación, la cual es el producto de una campaña extorsiva desesperada, iniciada desde hace ya varios años por personas que ud al igual que mi representado, saben que tuvieron relaciones en el pasado con su padre, el Doctor Hector Silva y ahora esas relaciones han sido heredadas por vía consanguínea hacia su persona por los mismos intereses que siempre han existido.
Desde ya, queremos anticiparle que posterior a la publicación que sobre el tema usted realice, le solicitamos nos permita hacer uso de nuestro derecho constitucional de respuesta abriendo el espacio que corresponda segun la Ley y sin restricciones controladas por su persona tal y como pretendió hacer con la publicación de fecha 18 de marzo de 2016, y de la cual usted ya enfrenta las consecuencias de sus actos, a efecto de que tengamos la oportunidad de brindar la verdad sobre los hechos que usted malintencionadamente tergiversa.
Esta investigación de la cual estamos seguros se desvanecerá muy pronto por falta de fundamento, será la causa principal que pondrá fin a una batalla en la cual todos sabemos quienes serán los perdedores.
Le vemos muy pronto en los Estrados aca en El Salvador y consecuentemente allá en donde usted dice radicar.
Lic. Ernesto Gutierrez