Posted on: March 22, 2023, 08:10h.
Last updated on: March 22, 2023, 08:10h.
A corruption scandal that has rocked every level of the Dominican Republic (DR) government is finally coming to a head. Up and down the government lines, including through its gambling regulator, was a network of individuals defrauding the state, and some will soon stand trial for their actions.
The first stage of the judicial process of those involved in what has become known as the “Squid operation” took place on Tuesday. The stage was a packed courtroom for a hearing to present charges of corruption and fraud against the 20 defendants in this case.
Those 20 only make up a portion of the number of people involved and who the public prosecutor’s office accuses of corruption as a government official. The scandal dates back to when Danilo Medina was president of the DR, from 2012 to 2020, for which he also faces an investigation for corruption and unlawful accumulation of wealth.
The Mighty Fall
The defendants went to their first hearing wearing masks, helmets and other security protection. They had to be escorted by soldiers as an added measure to prevent them from being attacked.
The visit was short. Judge Kenya Romero postponed the hearing until next Sunday following a motion by the defendants’ lawyers. They want more time to read through the accusations, which isn’t an easy task.
The Public Ministry has a file of 2,120 pages and 1,200 pieces of evidence, according to its statements. Prosecutor Yeni Berenice Reynoso insisted that this would be enough for the court to rule on preventive detention of the accused. She wants them behind bars for 18 months to prohibit them from trying to avoid prosecution.
During this hearing, the court also verified that all the defendants and their technical defenses were notified. Judge Romero then ordered the delivery, in digital format, of the evidence that supports the lawyers’ request.
The defendants in the Squid operation include former Minister of Public Works and Communications Gonzalo Castillo, Administrative Minister of the Presidency José Ramón Peralta (a close ally of Medina when he was in power) and Minister of Finance Donald Guerrero. They were allegedly the ringleaders of the fraud that embezzled over $350 million from the government.
Also among the group are the former Comptroller General of the Republic, Daniel Omar Caamaño; the former director of the State Sugar Council, Luis Miguel Piccirilo; former director of the National Registry, Claudio Silver Peña and economist Ángel Lockward.
Leaving no government department untouched, the former directors of Casinos and Gambling, Oscar Chalas Guerrero and Julián Omar Fernández, are also implicated. Although prosecutors have not explained their roles, that information will become part of the upcoming hearings.
Cleaning Up DR’s Political Mess
Certain political figures in the DR, which has had to deal with unexplained deaths and different levels of controversy for years, have been on a mission to rid the country of political corruption. There have been a number of scandals over the past decade, many of which involved Medina and his family.
The Squid case occurred after 16 months of inaction by the Public Ministry in corruption cases. The last one presented was on November 18 of last year. That included Medina’s second-in-command of security, General Julio de los Santos Viola, and Juan Carlos Torres Robiou, the former head of the Specialized Tourist Security Corps.
Last year, the Dominican National Lottery faced a scandal after allegations that someone had rigged a draw. Despite what appears to be widespread fraud and government corruption, DR President Luis Abinader has been silent. He gave a speech at the end of February that lasted over two and a half hours, but didn’t address the corruption or a desire to clean up the government during his dialogue.