Prosecutors in Colombia have dismissed a criminal libel case filed by accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo, alias “Memo Fantasma,” against InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott, saying that there was no evidence to sustain the complaint.
The dismissal comes after the Attorney General's Office investigated the complaint by Acevedo, who awaits trial on charges of money laundering, criminal conspiracy and illicit enrichment. Prosecutor Leonor Meléndez Rodríguez wrote in a December 10 order that “no information has been obtained" to confirm the substance of the complaint. The investigation included interviews and a review of the facts, according to the order.
Acevedo, who is currently being held in pre-trial detention at Bogotá's La Modelo prison, was arrested in June. He is accused of serving as the financial head of one of the most powerful divisions of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), a former paramilitary army that murdered tens of thousands of people while acting as one of the world's largest drug trafficking groups.
Prosecutors also allege that Acevedo directed a money laundering scheme using multimillion-dollar properties that can be traced back to convicted drug traffickers, who later transferred them to Acevedo and his family. Acevedo has denied the charges against him.
About a year before Acevedo’s arrest, InSight Crime published the results of a two-year investigation that identified him as the elusive paramilitary drug lord known as Memo Fantasma. The series also chronicled how he evaded prosecution for years while accruing massive wealth in the real estate sector, including through a Bogotá office development project conducted with the husband of current Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez. InSight Crime ultimately tracked Acevedo to Madrid, Spain, where he was living.
In April, Acevedo's lawyers said he wanted to push ahead with his complaint against McDermott, despite widespread official confirmation of the findings of the investigation, including statements by Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa confirming that Acevedo was Memo Fantasma.
Recently, Acevedo's lawyers have been more focused on the criminal case against him, petitioning a judge to release him from pre-trial detention. The request was denied on the basis of concerns that he is a flight risk.
Prosecutors were scheduled to present formal charges against Acevedo at a December 10 hearing, but that hearing was canceled.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first criminal case brought against McDermott for the InSight Crime investigation into Memo Fantasma.
Prior to Acevedo's complaint, Vice President Ramírez brought a criminal case against McDermott for “affecting her right to moral integrity, good name, dignity and honor.” However, she quickly withdrew her complaint, after InSight Crime refused to change the articles as she wanted.
SEE ALSO: How Memo Fantasma Was Discovered
Press freedom advocates have previously lambasted the criminal cases against McDermott, criticizing Colombia’s classification of defamation as a criminal offense and the use of the courts to attack journalists.
“The Colombian judicial system should not be used as a tool to retaliate against investigative journalists, but the fact that criminal defamation laws remain on the books allows this pattern to continue,” Natalie Southwick, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Central and South America Program Coordinator, said at the time Acevedo filed his complaint against McDermott.