Prosecutors have little to show for investigation into alleged corruption of 21 government officers

A feature in El Caribe reminds readers of the many cases of corruption and major irregularities in government that have made headlines in the past but seem to have been swept under a couch. The cases are candidates to benefit from being completely forgotten and to receive de facto pardon now that it seems Congress will pass the Penal Code that includes a clause whereby corruption crimes will expire after 20 years.

Rosmerys de León delivers a compilation in El Caribe reminding readers of the many government officers that have had to answer to long hours of questioning at the Specialized Administrative Corruption Prosecution Office (Pepca) of the Attorney General Office. For more than a year, now under new authorities, the Pepca has been conducting several investigations into corruption and other irregularities.

Dozens of ex-officials and the occasional government official have been interrogated by deputy prosecutors Wilson Camacho, director of Pepca, and Yeni Berenice Reynoso, adjunct chief prosecutor. While many are awaiting trial for allegedly committing acts of corruption, the El Caribe feature looks into the cases of 21 (one of them a current official) that have been slow to move in the judiciary.

Starting August 2020 with the naming of former Supreme Court of Justice Penal Chamber presiding judge Miriam German Brito as Attorney General of the Republic, a series of investigations into administrative corruption involving officials and former officials at different levels began.

El Caribe lists among those questioned for alleged irregularities, for whom there has not been conclusion, former government officials Donald Guerrero (Ministry of Hacienda), Simón Lizardo (administrator of the government Banco de Reservas), Iris Guaba (director of the Plan de Asistencia Social), Yocasta Guzmán (director of the Procurement Agency), Carlos Amarante Baret (Minister of Education), Diandino Peña (Minister of Public Works, director of the Santo Domingo Metro), Temístocles Montás (Minister of Industry & Commerce an Economy), Berlinesa Franco (director of the Instituto Nacional de Atención Integral a la Primera Infancia) and Robert de la Cruz (personal assistant to former President Danilo Medina).

Also, national deputy Radhames Camacho, senator Felix Bautista, former deputy Lucia Medina,

“The cases we are investigating are several, that is why we are summoning several people, and in the future we hope to also take these people to court,” Camacho, head of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Prosecution of Administrative Corruption (Pepca), said almost a year ago, as reported in El Caribe.

One of the most prominent cases that has gone beyond interrogations, but has not yet reached the courts, is the investigation against former members of the Chamber of Accounts, which was raided nine months ago by Camacho and other anti-corruption prosecutors during the so-called Operation Caracol.

The case is looking into irregularities committed by the plenary of the Chamber of Accounts — Hugo Álvarez Pérez, Pedro Ortiz Hernández, Carlos Noé Tejada Díaz, Margarita Melenciano Corporán and Félix Álvarez, and Henry Bautista Santana, the former director of auditing of that government institution that is responsible for auditing government.

“We are here because in the Dominican Republic the Chamber of Accounts has been part of the problem and not part of the solution; it has been an accomplice of corruption and not a defender of the treasury,” said Camacho on the day of the raid on the Chamber of Accounts. At the time he explained that thousands of documents evidence the audit makeups carried out to favor institutions and their former directors.

El Caribe reports that Alvarez Perez, Ortiz Hernandez, Tejada Diaz, Melenciano Corporan, Alvarez and Bautista Santana were interrogated more than once after an investigation was opened against them last December 2020 on suspicion of obstruction of justice, coalition of officials, falsification of public documents, association of wrongdoers, complicity in the criminal offenses of embezzlement, fraud against the state and laundering of assets derived from acts of corruption.

Also investigated with no follow up yet available to the general public is the current mayor of the municipality of Pedro Brand, Wilson Paniagua, better known for being a leading trucking entrepreneur.

Also pending for a conclusion is the case started regarding former Abinader administration Youth Minister Kinsberly Taveras Duarte, questioned for her outstanding wealth at a young age. She was known only for being an elected officer for small townships before her naming to the cabinet position.

Likewise, there has not been information on what happened with the investigation of the suspended director of the Dominican Postal Institute (Inposdom), Adan Peguero.

El Caribe gives some details in chronological order of the above cases. It reports that the first questioned was Berlinesa Franco, former director of the National Institute of Integral Attention to Early Childhood (Inaipi), a position she held during the presidency of Danilo Medina. The interview was conducted a year and three months ago by the National District prosecutor, Rosalba Ramos, together with three Pepca prosecutors, just five days after Miriam German Brito took office as attorney general of the Republic.

Franco was questioned for alleged acts of corruption committed in Inaipi in May 2020 during the state of emergency. Days after this questioning took place, the Attorney General Office decided that this case and others of corruption would no longer be handled by Ramos.

National District prosecutor Rosalba Ramos, irregularly appointed during the administration of former Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez, is now being investigated for her handling of the Cesar Emilio Peralta drug trafficking case and her ties to corruption within the Attorney General Office. Her former boss Jean Alan Rodriguez is in Najayo Jail awaiting prosecution for irregularities at the Attorney General Office.

El Caribe reports that on 8 October 2020, political leader Temístocles Montás, at the time acting president of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), was asked to give his version on alleged obstacles that the then ruling party had put in place when an audit of the public funds it received through the Central Electoral Board (JCE) in the years 2012 and 2016 would have been carried out.

Montás, former minister of Industry, Commerce and Mipymes and former minister of Economy was questioned again on 4 December 2020, on the definitive filing of his would-be involvement in the Odebrecht constructions. The court decision in his favor was issued during the administration of the former attorney general of the Republic, Jean Alain Rodríguez.

On the afternoon of 16 October 2020, the national deputy for the PLD, Radhames Camacho; the mayor of the municipality of Pedro Brand, Wilson Paniagua; and the assistant of former President Medina, Robert de la Cruz, had appeared before the Anti-Administrative Corruption Prosecution Office (Pepca). On that occasion, it was reported that they were summoned for questioning regarding the sworn declarations of assets they presented at the end of their terms in government. Since then, nothing is known of this case.

Five days later, on 21 October, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, Lucia Medina, a sister of former President Danilo Medina, was summoned. It was also said that she was being questioned for her sworn statement of assets.

The following day, the senator of San Juan, Félix Bautista, a former party member and now leader of the Fuerza del Pueblo party of former President Leonel Fernández, was summoned for the same issue. Felix Bautista backs the passing in Congress of a version of the Extinction of Domain bill that would not be retroactive.

Two days passed and on 23 October 2020, Kinsberly Taveras Duarte, who had been appointed Minister of Youth just on 16 August 2020 in the new Abinader government, was summoned for her sworn statement of assets and other irregularities. In her case, (the process of which cost her position), her current partner, her sister and her ex-husband were summoned on different dates. Nothing is known of the results of these investigations.

Meanwhile, Yokasta Guzmán, former director of the Procurement Agency (DGCP), and Iris Guaba, former director of the Social Assistance Plan of the Presidency, were questioned for the first time on the afternoon of 3 December 2020. Guaba was summoned to answer about irregularities in procurement processes. Guaba said that she appeared before the Pepca to give explanations on her sworn declaration of assets, although a complaint was filed against her regarding the theft of hard disks containing the memory of operations carried out under her management in the government entity.

In December 2020, the interrogations of the members of the Chamber of Accounts began. Subsequently, in February 2021, Donald Guerrero, former Minister of Hacienda, was summoned to appear for alleged acts of corruption and defrauding the State. Simón Lizardo, former administrator of BanReservas, was also questioned for this same case.

At the beginning of March 2021, Diandino Peña, former director of the Santo Domingo Metro Office (Opret) was summoned for questioning by the Pepca office. In the same month, Carlos Amarante Baret, former Minister of Education, was investigated for alleged irregularities during the government of Danilo Medina.

In November 2021, the Pepca questioned the suspended director of the Dominican Postal Institute, Adán Peguero, for alleged anomalies committed in his position.

“I beg you to be patient and continue to wait for the actions to be developed by the Public Ministry under the direction of Miriam German Brito,” Pepca chief prosecutor Wilson Camacho has reiterated on several occasions.

In a more recent case being followed in other media, senator Alexis Victoria, who an investigative report by Alicia Ortega (El Informe) showed had committed major irregularities in office government procurement in the health sector, has announced that he will donate RD$1 million to the Dominican Rehabilitation Association.

Meanwhile, the director of the new Ethics Agency of the Abinader administration, former Vice President Milagros Ortiz Bosch appeared before the Organization of American States to present the advances against corruption in the Dominican Republic. Ortiz Bosch stressed the independence of the judiciary in the Abinader administration.

Read more in Spanish:
El Caribe
El Nuevo Diario

3 December 2021