ROME – Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz, who’s faced a series of legal battles over the past 18 months linked to her reporting on a controversial Catholic lay movement, has launched a complaint against a prosecutor she says brought unfounded charges against her.

Already waiting for a court to recognize the withdrawal of a complaint for criminal defamation brought and then retracted by Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, who’s part of the scandal-ridden Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), Ugaz has opened an inquiry into a second legal notice she received in May alleging that she provided false testimony in a related case.

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Ugaz pushed for the inquiry on grounds that when she was notified of the charge, which explained that an investigation had been opened into whether she had provided false testimony in a colleague’s legal battle with the same archbishop, she was never informed of the grounds upon which the investigation was based.

In 2015 Ugaz co-authored the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers with colleague Pedro Salinas, detailing years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse inside the SCV, whose founder, Peruvian 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 filed criminal defamation complaints against both Salinas and Ugaz, charging Ugaz for a series of tweets she sent about him ahead of a papal trip to Peru in January of that year and for her role in a 2016 documentary titled “The Sodalitium Scandal” by Al-Jazeera which named Eguren Anselmi as part of a land trafficking scandal in Piura.

(In the Peruvian system, private citizens can file criminal charges for several offenses, including alleged defamation.)

After Salinas was found guilty in April, Eguren Anselmi retracted his complaints after facing backlash from civil society as well as from the hierarchy of the Peruvian Catholic Church.

However, in May, while still waiting for a judge to be assigned to her case with Eguren Anselmi, Ugaz faced further trouble from the Criminal Court of Piura when she was notified that the Public Minister had launched an investigation into her for allegedly impeding the administration of justice by presenting false testimony during Salinas’s case.

Ugaz had testified that despite stating in a television interview she had produced the Al-Jazeera documentary, in reality she was not the producer but had merely been asked to help, appearing in the 30-minute film for less than a minute.

On January 23 she provided a letter from Al-Jazeera confirming her statement. However, the letter was rejected by the court.

At the urging of Ugaz’s lawyers, the Decentralized Office of Internal Oversight in Piura has now opened a preliminary inquiry against provincial prosecutor Heldy Angélica Huaylinos Silva, who issued the order for Ugaz to be investigated for false testimony.

The inquiry will last 30 days and will explore possible administrative infractions in the exercise of the prosecutor’s functions.

The inquiry likely will consider language used in the legal notice Ugaz received in May, which her lawyers say almost word-for-word matches the text of a complaint made by Carlos Alberto Gómez de la Torre Pretell – who’s affiliated with the Saint John the Baptist Civil Association, which has ties to the SCV, and which was named in the Al-Jazeera documentary in relation to the Piura land trafficking scandal – alleging defamation and urging Ugaz to retract the portions of the video mentioning the association and the criminal group behind the trafficking scandal.

In comments to Peruvian paper El Comercio, Ugaz said, “With my lawyer we are suing the prosecutor because the document does not attach the reasons for the lawsuit, and it uses a text that is a ‘copy-paste’ of Gomez de la Torre’s complaint. She doesn’t even make something of her own.”

Ugaz, currently preparing to publish a new book detailing the financial dealings of the SCV, said she is undergoing “a lynching”, having received some 20 notarized letters threatening legal action over information she has published.

Ugaz has been called to appear before the prosecutor in Piura on Oct. 3 in relation to the investigation of alleged false testimony. However, she said so far she’s only received a notice to appear, “but they won’t tell us why.”

Her lawyer, Carlos Riviera, told El Comercio that for now, the two processes – the investigation into Ugaz and the inquiry into the prosecutor – will move forward at the same time.

“In 30 days, we will know if there will be disciplinary action against the prosecutor,” he said.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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