Three courts in Santa Ana, El Salvador, have declared themselves incompetent in the proceedings against a businessman and seven others accused of trafficking five kilos of cocaine. Some courts say the case does not fall into the category of organized crime, others say it does. Nineteen months after the arrests, it will be the Supreme Court of Justice that determines where the suspects, who official investigations link with the Texis Cartel, are processed.
The trial of Jesus Sanabria Zamora, a businessman and former councilor of the Metapan municipal government who was captured 19 months ago for negotiating the sale of five kilos of cocaine, has become a hot potato for the justice system. The case has passed through three tribunals in Santa Ana, and all three have declared that they have their hands tied in regard to trying the stocky, bald 44-year-old, who thought he was selling the drugs to money lenders, but in reality was proposing a deal with undercover cops.
This article originally appeared in El Faro. Read the original here
In order to understand how the judicial investigation became an apparently undesirable burden for the Santa Ana courts, it is necessary to go back to Thursday, May 13, 2013. On that day, the judicial investigation into the case concluded, and Santa Ana's Specialized Court Against Organized Crime ruled there was sufficient evidence to try Sanabria Zamora, owner of the Apuzunga water park located in the north of the city.
A month later, on June 26, 2013, the judicial records arrived at Santa Ana's Court of Judgment Against Organized Crime. In the file, along with expert testimony regarding the weight and purity of the drug, were the declarations of key witnesses -- Samuel and Adriel, the undercover cops who, thanks to the testimony of an anonymous informant, knew that the councilor was involved in drug trafficking, that he had financial debts, and that he was willing to negotiate a large quantity of drugs with them. The businessman called the packets of cocaine "vaquitas" (cows), according to the police officers.
The undercover cops began to negotiate with Sanabria Zamora on November 11, 2011. Three months later, in January 2012, the two parties agreed to a transaction that would take place in the parking lot of Los Arcos, a restaurant located in the outskirts of Texistepeque, along the highway leading to Metapan.
When Sanabria Zamora's men got to the Los Arcos restaurant near dusk on Monday, January 23, 2012, the police and the Prosecutor General's Office were ready and waiting to arrest them for drug trafficking. Seven people were captured, among them police sergeant Amaldis Alcindo Ramirez Vargas. The police already knew the men were carrying drugs, but they had not expected them to resist arrest. A shootout followed, and one of the captured men was shot and wounded.
Three days after the operation took place, Sanabria Zamora was arrested, becoming the second member of the Metapan municipal council to be prosecuted for drug-related crimes after Amadeo Figueroa Morales, was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison following the seizure of 2.4 kilos of cocaine.
Zamora was part of the municipal council led by Juan Samayoa, a mayor from the National Coalition Party (PCN), who appears in various police reports as a member of a network dedicated to drug trafficking. The same documents register the name of the businessman Jose Adan Salazar -- more widely known as "Chepe Diablo" -- as an important member of the organization known as the Texis Cartel. Both Samayoa and Salazar have denied their responsibility for any of the crimes in which investigations have implicated them.
SEE ALSO: Chepe Diablo Profile
In the case of Sanabria Zamora, the strongest evidence the authorities had was that he directly negotiated the illicit transaction in the Los Arcos restaurant. Under strict security measures, this evidence was sent to the Santa Ana Court Against Organized Crime.
It has already been 19 months since the arrest. The judicial investigation concluded without surprises, but when the trial was at the point of closing one of the most important chapters in El Salvador's judicial history, Santa Ana's Specialized Court of Judgment Against Organized Crime ruled that the undercover operation that linked Sanabria Zamora with a group of drug traffickers had not uncovered an organized crime case.
Judge Sonia Salas ruled that the case did not comply with the parameters of organized crime established in a sentence by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. Among other things, the maximum tribunal established that for a case to be considered organized crime, "a special temporal continuity or durability that goes beyond a simple or occasional partnership for the crime is judicially required."
SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel Profile
Once the Court of Judgment Against Organized Crime said the case was not organized crime, the case files were passed to Santa Ana's First Court of Judgment. Once this court had analyzed the documents, it declared itself incompetent to try Sanabria Zamora because the crime occurred on territory outside the court's domain. Crimes that occur in Texistepeque are resolved by Santa Ana's Second Court of Judgment and so, the hot potato was passed to that tribunal.
The Second Court of Judgment received the records and programmed the trial for the 19th and 21st of August 2013. However, when the country returned from August vacations, the case against Sanabria Zamora took another turn.
On August 7, 2013, Judge Guillermo Lara Dominguez ruled that Sanabria Zamora could not be tried by the court because the case has characteristics of organized crime, exactly the opposite of what the specialized Court of Judgment Against Organized Crime had ruled. The case was then passed to the Supreme Court of Justice, so that a plenary session could determine which court should try this stocky, bald, 44-year-old, who thought he was selling drugs to some money lenders, but in reality was proposing a deal with undercover cops.
*This article originally appeared in El Faro. It was translated and republished with permission. Read the original here.