Irish Echo Online - News

New delay expected in Colombia 3 verdict
By Stephen McKinley

The three Irishmen who are in jail in Bogotá after trial on charges of providing terrorist know-how to left-wing guerrillas have heard that the judge in the case will not reach sentencing until "after February," according to reports in Colombia.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan were arrested as they tried to leave Colombia in August 2001 and charged with assisting the FARC, Colombia's main left-wing guerrilla group, with new bombing technology, in a trial that ended in late 2003.

Judge Jairo Acosta is said to have told reporters last week that due to his workload, he will not be able to deliver a verdict on the case until at least next month. He said that said he had 60 other cases to consider as well as the Irish one, which ended in late 2003.

Acosta had been expected to decide the case as early as this month. The three men could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.

Irish, Australian and American legal observers have attacked the trial of the three men, saying the process was fatally compromised after Colombian officials and senior politicians spoke in public about the case, and that the defense evidence exonerates the three.

In a statement, the Irish-American legal organization the Brehon Law Society condemned the continued delay in the case.

"The old expression 'justice delayed is justice denied' comes immediately to mind," said spokesperson Stephen McCabe. "It has now been some 29 months since the arrest and detention of the three accused and yet no verdict has been rendered."

"Surely, based on the paucity of the evidence presented by the state, a verdict of acquittal is the only result that any fair-minded observer of these events could reasonably envision."

Legal observers have stated that Judge Acosta must remain free of political pressure in order to decide the case fairly, and have said they fear he could be vulnerable to threats or blackmail from Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries who violently oppose the FARC.

Connolly, McCauley and Monaghan were arrested while leaving Colombia in August 2001. They were accused by Colombian officials of being IRA members who were passing on terrorist know-how to the FARC, the left-wing Colombian group that has waged an anti-government guerilla war there for over 30 years.

During the men's trial, both forensic and circumstantial evidence was declared flawed by the defense, who provided alibi witnesses and video evidence showing the men were not in Colombia on the dates stated by the prosecution. A forensics expert from the U.K, Keith Borer, who has been an expert witness for the British government and Irish republicans, declared the forensics evidence against the men to be flawed.

All three admit to being Irish republicans and two of the men. But they say their presence in Colombia was to discuss the Irish peace process with FARC guerillas who were then talking with the Colombian government about a ceasefire. The talks have since collapsed.

Irish republicans and their supporters have been campaigning for the men's release since 2001 through the Bring Them Home campaign. For the Brehon Law Society in New York, McCabe added.

This story appeared in the issue of January 7 -13, 2004

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