ROME – Paola Ugaz, a Peruvian journalist currently waiting for a court to recognize the withdrawal of a complaint for criminal defamation brought by an archbishop linked to a controversial lay movement, is now facing a second charge of providing false testimony in another case brought by the same prelate.
Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura has promised to retract his complaint against Ugaz, but she’s now under investigation by the criminal court of Piura for impeding “the administration of justice” during a similar defamation case against her colleague, Pedro Salinas. Ugaz could face between 2-4 years in prison should she be found guilty of impeding the administration of justice by giving false testimony.
Ugaz co-authored the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers, with Salinas in 2015, detailing years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse inside the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), a controversial Catholic organization that originated in Peru. Its founder, layman Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of physical, psychological and sexual abuses and was prohibited by the Vatican in 2017 of having further contact with members of the group.
In 2018, Eguren Anselmi, who is a member of the SCV, issued criminal defamation complaints against both Salinas and Ugaz, charging Ugaz in part for her role in a 2016 documentary titled “The Sodalitium Scandal” by Al-Jazeera she participated in which named Eguren Anselmi as part of a land trafficking scandal in Piura.
In the documentary, local police official Pedro Zapata, who headed a 2014 investigation that dismantled a criminal outfit group associated with trafficking called “La Gran Cruz del Norte,” said the group’s leader had a voucher in his possession for just over $21,000 from the San Juan Bautista association, which has links to the SCV.
After Salinas was found guilty of defamation in April, Eguren Anselmi opted to retract his complaints after facing backlash from civil society as well as from the hierarchy of the Peruvian Catholic Church.
While in Salinas’s case a letter was submitted to the criminal court in Piura and his case was dropped immediately, there has been a delay with Ugaz, whose case had been transferred to Lima. In comments to Crux Eguren Anselmi’s lawyer, Percy Garcia Cavero, said the legal team has been unable to present a formal letter asking to drop the case because it has not yet been assigned to a criminal judge in Lima.
“As soon as the new judge notifies us that the complaint is there, we will present the written request (of withdrawal) we have already prepared,” Garcia Cavero told Crux.
This was confirmed by a recent statement from the Archdiocese of Piura, which in a June 19 statement said Eguren Anselmi “is still waiting for the judicial notification which will be the judge of Lima in charge of the case so as to proceed in presenting the corresponding withdrawal.”
Earlier this month Ugaz’s lawyer, Carlos Riviera Paz, received an official court order saying Ugaz was summoned to appear in court in response to a complaint, but no details of what the complaint was about were included. Ugaz did not appear, as Riviera Paz insisted that the court notify her of the charges first.
According to the court order, the Public Minister of the Criminal Court of Piura has launched an investigation into Ugaz for impeding the administration of justice by presenting false testimony while giving evidence during Salinas’s case.
On Jan. 24 Ugaz was called to give testimony in Salinas’s case, during which she insisted that she was not the producer of the Al-Jazeera documentary but had merely been asked by producers to help. On January 23 she provided a letter from Al-Jazeera confirming her statement.
According to the letter, dated Jan. 23 and which Crux has acquired, Al-Jazeera said Ugaz was asked by the director of the documentary, Seamus Mirodan, to provide information on the SCV and to be interviewed. Signed by the English Programs Manager Diarmuid Jeffreys, the letter insists that Ugaz “did not form part of the production of the program” and “nor has she had any interference on the editorial aspects” of the documentary.
The letter said the program was commissioned by Al-Jazeera, who maintains full reproduction rights.
“In no way can Ms. Ugaz or any other person make a decision about the retraction or alteration of the (program) on the internet or on social networks. It is the absolute power of the channel I represent,” Jeffreys said in the letter, voicing surprise that the contents of the documentary were considered defamatory.
The documentary, Jeffreys said, “was created with the greatest strictness possible and we are very satisfied by having completed our journalistic work.”
However, the letter was rejected by the court in Piura during the proceedings prior to Salinas’s guilty verdict.
When “The Sodalitium Scandal” was entered in a 2018 New York Film Festival, Ugaz was not among the five producers credited for the documentary.
Yet in an October 2018 interview with Peruvian journalist Glazter Tuesta, Ugaz indicated that she was a producer, saying “it’s a documentary, let’s say, in which I was the producer, but the reporter was the famous investigative journalist Daniel Yovera.”
Yovera, Ugaz and Mirodan have all been accused of defamation by the director of the San Juan Bautista association, Alberto Gomez de la Torre.
In comments to Crux, Ugaz said calling herself a producer “was a mistake and carelessness on my part,” and that she had been asked by Yovera to provide information on the SCV, appearing in the program for just a 40-second clip. She does not appear in the credits for the 26-minute documentary.
“I helped him like I do with anyone who asks me for information about a case like the case I have investigated for nine years,” she said.
According to the formal court notification, the investigation will be carried out for a period of 60 days, during which they will collect documentation before issuing a verdict.
Ugaz is currently writing another book detailing the financial aspects of the SCV, which is expected to outline alleged financial misdealing by some members of the group.
In addition to her legal woes in Piura, Ugaz still faces other possible legal threats from several organizations and institutions affiliated with the SCV, including the prestigious San Pedro Catholic boys’ school in Lima, which sent Ugaz a notarized letter earlier this year asking her to retract investigative reports she had published detailing scandals involving former members of the SCV who ran the school.
Following Eguren Anselmi’s decision to retract his complaint against her and the backlash he faced from Peruvian Church leadership, Crux asked the school if they are planning to continue their legal threats against Ugaz. School officials have not responded to those requests for comment.
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