Nicaragua's appeals court will review the sentences handed to 18 Mexicans found guilty of drug trafficking after being arrested while traveling as journalists, in a test of the court system's capacity to effectively administer justice to transnational criminals.
In August 2012, the 18 Mexicans were arrested at the Honduras border with $9.2 million in cash while carrying media credentials from Mexico's Televisa TV station. The 18 were found guilty of money laundering, drug trafficking and activities linked to organized crime and received Nicaragua's maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
During the appeals hearing in Managua, two defense lawyers argued that Judge Edgar Altamirano had used illegitimate evidence in his initial ruling, citing the fact that the accused were not in possession of drugs at the time of their arrest even though cocaine residue was found in their vehicles, reported Vanguardia.
Appeals court judges have 30 days to review the case and issue a final ruling.
InSight Crime Analysis
Since 2010, when Nicaraguan Interior Minister Ana Isabel Morales claimed a large number of judges had granted early releases and sentence reductions to international drug traffickers, there have been serious concerns over impunity and corruption in the Nicaraguan judicial system.
If the 18 Mexicans have their sentences reduced or quashed, the case could raise further questions about the system's ineffectiveness at prosecuting transnational organized crime, a trend that could eventually mar Nicaragua's relatively clean image when it comes to tackling the drug trade.