18 Members of FARC Indicted; Will Face Extradition to U.S. Upon Capture

December 15, 2010

Tanja Anamary Nijmeijer, a Dutch national who moved to Colombia and joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002, and 17 other members of the FARC designated foreign terrorist organization were indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., yesterday on seven counts of terrorism and weapons charges arising out of their participation in the hostage-taking of three American citizens in the Republic of Colombia.

The three former hostages—Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes—were held in the Colombian jungle by members of the FARC for more than five years until their rescue by Colombian military forces on July 2, 2008.

The indictment charges Nijmeijer, 32, and 17 others with one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, three substantive counts of hostage taking, one count of using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, and two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Sixteen are being charged for the first time; two others, charged earlier, face new counts in today’s indictment. If convicted of these charges, each individual would face a maximum term of up to 60 years of incarceration, the maximum sentence permitted under Colombian law for Colombian nationals extradited to the United States for prosecution. The weapons charge carries a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years’ incarceration. Four of the 18 individuals are also charged in count two of the indictment with an eighth count, the premeditated murder of a U.S. national outside the United States, done during the perpetration of, and attempt to perpetrate, a kidnapping, which also carries a maximum sentence of up to 60 years’ incarceration in this case.

Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes, Thomas Janis, and a Colombian national, Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, were conducting counter-drug aerial surveillance in southern Colombia on February 13, 2003, when their Cessna aircraft experienced engine failure and was forced to make an emergency landing on a remote mountainside where a large contingent of FARC guerrillas were gathered. All five occupants of the plane survived the crash, but were immediately taken captive by the FARC guerrillas. The pilot of the plane, Thomas Janis, and the Colombian national, Sgt. Cruz, were both immediately executed by the FARC, and their bodies were left near the crash site. The other three, Mr. Gonsalves, Mr. Stansell, and Mr. Howes, were held under barbaric conditions in the jungle for more than five years.

The indictment alleges that choke harnesses, chains, padlocks, and wires were used to bind the necks and wrists of the American hostages to prevent their escape, and a large barbed-wire concentration camp was constructed to hold dozens of civilian hostages in the jungle for more than a year, including the three Americans.

As Colombian rescue efforts intensified in later years, the indictment alleges that the hostages were forced to move long distances, from camp to camp, including a grueling 40-day march while carrying heavy backpacks through dense jungle to outrun Colombian military forces. The indictment also alleges that an agreement was made to kill the hostages, if necessary, to prevent their escape or rescue.

The indictment sheds new light on the international aspect of the FARC’s hostage-taking enterprise, and this crime in particular. For example, it alleges that the hostages were taken to a meeting in 2003 with several senior members of the FARC’s Estado Mayor Central, who told the Americans that their continued detention as U.S. citizens would assist the FARC’s goals by increasing international pressure on the government of Colombia to capitulate to the FARC’s demands. The FARC published communiques articulating their political demands on the Internet, in Spanish and English, to be read in the United States and, in 2003, released a proof of life video articulating their demands to Colombian and American media outlets.

The indictment also alleges that the hostages were transported, at times, outside Colombia and into the Republic of Venezuela, in order to prevent the Colombian police and military from rescuing the hostages.

Four of the individuals in yesterday’s indictment, Carlos Alberto Garcia, also known as “Oscar Montero” and “El Paisa,” Juan Carlos Reina Chica, also known as “Farid,” Jaime Cortes Mejia, also known as “Davison,” and Carlos Arturo Cespedes Tovar, also known as “Uriel,”are charged with murder of a U.S. national outside the United States, for their involvement in the kidnapping when Thomas Janis was shot in the back of the head with an assault rifle by FARC guerrillas. The indictment also alleges that “El Paisa” gave the order to shoot at the disabled plane as it was attempting to land.

Tanja Nijmeijer gained notoriety in recent years in Colombia, after her personal journal was recovered in a Colombian military raid in 2007, and excerpts of a video interview of her were released to the international press in 2010. On the recently-released video, Nijmeijer describes how she first learned about Colombia’s guerrilla war when she was still a student at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She describes how she helped the FARC as an operative in Bogota before eventually joining the group as an armed insurgent in November, 2002.

Yesterday’s charging document represents the fifth indictment issued in the District of Columbia against various FARC members involved in the kidnappings.

Two individuals in the indictment—Carlos Alberto Garcia, aka El Paisa, and Jose Ignacio Gonzalez Perdomo, aka Alfredo Arenas—were charged previously in an indictment returned in the District of Columbia in 2003, shortly after the three Americans were taken hostage. The recent indictment re-files each of those charges and adds a new homicide count against El Paisa. The indictment also adds a new weapons charge and an additional material support charge against both men.

The U.S. government, through the Rewards for Justice Program of the Department of State, is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of any FARC commanders involved in the hostage taking of Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes, and Marc Gonsalves, and the murder of Thomas Janis.

Upon the apprehension of those indicted, they will face immediate extradition to the U.S., assuming cooperation of Colombian officials.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Bookmark and Share

Venezuelan President Pursuing Extradition of Alleged Fugitive TV Channel Owners from the US

July 16, 2010

President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela must pursue the extradition from the United States of fugitive owners of a television channel strongly critical of his government so that they are forced to face criminal charges at home.

Chavez rejected allegations by Globovision owner Guillermo Zuloaga and minority shareholder Nelson Mezerhane, who say the increasingly authoritarian president orchestrated their prosecution as payback for the TV channel’s stinging criticism of his government.

The self-proclaimed socialist leader said he hopes officials in Washington don’t protect Zuloaga and Mezerhane.

Zuloaga’s lawyer, Jenny Tambasco, announced this week that her client will not return to Venezuela to face criminal charges that he considers politically motivated.

Tambasco spoke after Zuloaga asked the Washington-based Organization of American States for help, saying he wants its human rights commission to determine if he truly committed a crime in Venezuela.

Chavez denied that he’s behind the charges against Zuloaga and Mezerhane.

Zuloaga disappeared last month after a court issued an arrest warrant for him and one of his sons. The TV owner has not requested political asylum in the United States. Prosecutors requested his capture and extradition last month, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court has not yet approved the extradition request.

Mezerhane, who was in Florida last month, has also called the case political retribution. The TV executive and bank owner, like his associate, has said he does not plan to return to Venezuela in the near future.

Chavez also announced Thursday that his government would seize control of shares that Mezerhane holds in a nickel mine known as Loma de Niquel, a subsidiary of the London-based Anglo American mining company. Mezerhane holds 6.3 percent of Loma’s shares.

Last month, the government took over a bank owned by Mezerhane, Banco Federal, citing alleged financial problems and irregularities. And Chavez has warned that authorities may seize other assets belonging to Mezerhane to cover deposits, including the banker’s stake in Globovision.

Prosecutors want Zuloaga jailed while he awaits trial on charges of usury and conspiracy for keeping 24 new vehicles stored at a home he owns. Investigators allege that Zuloaga, who owns several car dealerships, was waiting for the vehicles’ market prices to rise, which is punishable under Venezuelan law.

Allies of Chavez have been angered by Zuloaga’s refusal to return, and disputed his claims that the country’s justice system leans in the government’s favor.

Globovision has recently been airing critical coverage of a scandal involving thousands of tons of food found beyond expiration dates and rotting in government storage. The 24-hour news station is also closely covering Colombia’s allegations that Marxist rebel leaders are allegedly hiding out in Venezuelan territory.

Globovision has been the only anti-Chavez channel on air since another channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite in January. RCTV was previously booted from the open airwaves after the government refused to renew its broadcast license in 2007.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Bookmark and Share