US embassy cable - 02TEGUCIGALPA3196

THE LATEST CHAPTER IN THE JUDICIAL TALE: A NEW COURT OF APPEALS

Identifier: 02TEGUCIGALPA3196
Wikileaks: View 02TEGUCIGALPA3196 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tegucigalpa
Created: 2002-11-07 21:29:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KJUS PREL PINR PGOV PHUM HO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEGUCIGALPA 003196 
 
SIPDIS 
 
C O R R E C T E D  COPY - classification markings para 13 
 
STATE FOR INR/B, PPC, WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2012 
TAGS: KJUS, PREL, PINR, PGOV, PHUM, HO 
SUBJECT: THE LATEST CHAPTER IN THE JUDICIAL TALE: A NEW 
COURT OF APPEALS 
 
REF: A. TEGUCIGALPA 03017 
     B. 072129Z NOV 02 
 
Classified By: PolChief Francisco Palmieri, Reasons 1.5 (b) and (d) 
 
1.  (U) SUMMARY: On November 5, the Supreme Court of Honduras 
named a new panel of Court of Appeals magistrates, after 
having ousted the entire court on October 23 in the midst of 
allegations of corruption and impropriety.  We are providing 
biographic summaries on the newly appointed Court of Appeals 
magistrates, Maria Elizabeth Chiuz Sierra  ((Chiuz Sierra)), 
Edith Urtecho Lopez ((Urtecho Lopez)) and Jose Francisco Ruiz 
Gaekel (a/k/a Francisco Alberto Ruiz Fernandez) ((Ruiz)). 
 
----------------- 
SETTING THE SCENE 
----------------- 
 
2.  (C) On October 23, the Supreme Court suspended all three 
Court of Appeals magistrates in the wake of allegations of 
corruption and impropriety.  One judge (Mario Alberto Guzman 
Zuniga) was accused of accepting bribes from Honduran Air 
Force colonels, who were defendants in a case wherein they 
allegedly pilfered money from the military retirement fund. 
The other two judges (Dagoberto Aspra Iglesias and Rita 
Ondina Nunez Barahona) were suspended for using improper 
channels to expose the first judge.  On November 1, all three 
judges were discharged, and shortly thereafter the Supreme 
Court indicated that all three are suspected of wrongdoing. 
(NOTE: There are rumors that Aspra and Nunez may have been 
parties to the corruption, but to date this has not been 
substantiated.  END NOTE.)  See reftels for additional 
details on the unseating of these judges.  On November 5, the 
Supreme Court named a new panel of Court of Appeals 
magistrates, for whom we are providing biographic summaries 
and Post's initial assessment. 
 
At their swearing-in ceremony, the new magistrates promised 
to promote honesty and transparency in the judicial process. 
Supreme Court President Vilma Morales stated that these three 
justices were selected solely on the basis of their legal 
experience and professional qualifications, emphasizing that 
the Supreme Court also sought individuals who are impartial, 
independent and honest. 
 
When talking to the press, all three of the new magistrates 
seized the opportunity to assure the public of their 
commitment fairness and justice.  Chiuz Sierra pointed out 
that she is capable of applying the law and meting out 
justice without being swayed by famous names of litigants. 
Urtecho promised to enforce the law fairly and to remain 
independent.  Likewise, Ruiz commented that the position is 
one that requires "nerves of steel," and that he is ready to 
tackle the challenges that come with the job. 
 
---------------------------- 
MARIA ELIZABETH CHIUZ SIERRA 
---------------------------- 
 
3.  (U) Maria Elizabeth Chiuz Sierra ((Chiuz Sierra)) was 
born in Tegucigalpa on November 29, 1939.  She received a law 
degree in 1972 from the National Autonomous University of 
Honduras (UNAH), after having received a Bachelor's degree in 
1964.  She has served in a number of government positions, 
and as a prosecutor and judge within the Honduran court 
system. 
 
4.  (U) From 1973 to 1975, she served as a criminal court 
judge in the Tegucigalpa judicial district and as an 
Assistant Attorney General.  She served as Director General 
for Salaries at the Ministry of Labor and as an assistant 
prosecutor in appellate court from 1975 to 1977.  Chiuz 
Sierra also served as the alternate president of the National 
Elections Board (TNE) from 1980 to 1982.  Additionally, from 
1977 to 1982, she was senior partner in her own law firm 
located in Tegucigalpa.  During the Roberto Suazo Cordova 
presidency (1982-1986), Chiuz Sierra held the post of 
Procurador General (similar to Solicitor General or Inspector 
General in the U.S.).  From 1987 to 1988, she was President 
of the Honduran Bar Association. 
 
5.  (C) In 1998, then-President Carlos Flores named her 
Minister of Public Security (MoPS), a post created by law 
July 15, 1998, when the public security forces made the 
transition from military to civilian control.  (NOTE: Many 
observers considered her a longtime confidante of Flores. 
END NOTE.)  In this position, Chiuz Sierra was responsible 
for both the national police and the investigative force 
(DGIC).  A serious conflict between Chiuz Sierra and DGIC 
Chief Wilfredo Alvarado erupted in July 1999.  The fray 
reached its peak when she publicly accused Alvarado's unit of 
spying on her--a statement she later retracted.  Alvarado 
claimed that Chiuz Sierra favored National Police Chief 
Alvaro Manuel Flores Ponce ((Flores Ponce)), and publicly 
questioned her managerial skills.  The media also raised 
issues about Chiuz Sierra's performance during her tenure as 
Minister.  She held onto the post until 2000, when President 
Flores replaced her with Gautama Fonseca. 
 
6.  (C) In 2002, Chiuz Sierra nominated herself for 
consideration by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. 
EmbOffs and USAID officials expressed the opinion that she is 
an "old-minded" attorney, and that she was supposedly 
dismissed from the MoPS post due to lack of leadership 
capability.  Post ultimately categorized her as "not 
recommended" for service on the Supreme Court.  Moreover, 
civil society questioned her ability to service in a position 
of judicial leadership, due to incompetence and lack of 
qualifications (she does not have much litigation experience). 
 
7.  (C) It is generally believed that she performed better in 
the position of Procurador General, and that she was not an 
effective MoPS.  Supposedly, former President Flores replaced 
her due to nonfeasance and permitting unchecked corruption at 
the highest level of the National Police (PN), which exploded 
in August 2000 when both PN Sub-Director Andres Wilfredo 
Urtecho Jeanborde and PN Director Alvaro Manuel Flores Ponce 
were connected to a Colombian air off-load on the north coast 
of Honduras. 
 
8.  (C)  While Chiuz Sierra's failure to perform well as MoPS 
does not necessarily mean that she is not suitable for the 
Court of Appeals, there remain some doubts as to her 
competence.  Post has no information besmirching her 
integrity, or indicating that she ever abused her position. 
While AID has had limited contact with this judge, their 
impression was that she was not engaged in reform of the 
Criminal Procedure Code. 
 
9.  (C) Chiuz Sierra is a member of the Liberal Party, and 
some people consider her to be from the "leftist" wing of the 
party.  She is single, and has one son, Gerardo Emilio 
Pacheco Chiuz, and two grandsons, Emerson Pacheco Echeverri 
and Gerson Pacheco Echeverri.  Her son is a computer expert 
and works in the private sector. 
 
------------------- 
EDITH URTECHO LOPEZ 
------------------- 
 
10.  (U) Edith Urtecho Lopez was born in Tegucigalpa on 
December 5, 1951.  She earned a Bachelor's degree and law 
degree at UNAH.  Most recently, she was Director of the 
National Public Defender's Office--she is a Nationalist 
appointed by the Maduro Administration.  Additionally, 
Urtecho Lopez has served as a civil court judge, an assistant 
fiscal and a fiscal (both are similar to assistant attorney 
general in the U.S.) in an AID/Supreme Court experimental 
criminal program and a legal advisor in the Ministry of 
Education.  She was a professor at both the Central American 
Technological University (UNITEC) and UNAH. 
 
11.  (C) AID staff members and contractors have worked with 
her as Public Defender, and all have an excellent impression 
of her.  They opine that she has a strong background and 
seems to be a highly credible individual.  The mission 
consensus is that she could emerge as a top-notch Court of 
Appeals magistrate.  One drawback of her appointment is that 
she is leaving the Public Defender position after only four 
months--a loss for the Public Defender's Office.  She was 
pushing for additional resources and was working to 
strengthen the office. 
 
12. (C) Nunez (one of the ousted judges) told PolOff that 
Urtecho Lopez is related to Andres Wilfredo Urtecho 
Jeanborde, the former Sub-Director of the PN under Flores 
Ponce who was fired in August 2000 because of involvement in 
narcotrafficking and other corrupt activities.  At this time, 
little is known about Urtecho Lopez's personal life and 
family. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
JOSE FRANCISCO RUIZ GAEKEL--ALSO KNOWN AS 
FRANCISCO ALBERTO RUIZ FERNANDEZ 
----------------------------------------- 
13. (C) All press accounts refer to this individual as Jose 
Francisco Ruiz Gaekel, but ORCA reports that this man says 
his name is Francisco Alberto Ruiz Fernandez ((Ruiz)).  He 
was born August 28, 1940 in Gracias, Lempira.  Until this 
appointment, Ruiz was an appellate judge in the San Pedro 
Sula district.  Additionally, he served as a trial judge in 
both Comayagua and Siguatepeque.  He was formerly a legal 
advisor to the Honduran Air Force, though in an interview 
with the Honduran press he declined to provide information 
about his rank.  (NOTE: It is uncertain as to whether he 
served in that capacity as a civilian or as a military 
officer. END NOTE.)  At one time, he was Registrar of 
Property.  Ruiz is reportedly a Nationalist.  At the time the 
appointments were announced, Ruiz did not have a curriculum 
vitae to provide to the press.  Likewise, Post currently has 
limited information on Ruiz. 
 
14.  (C)  This relatively unknown appointee remains somewhat 
of a mystery--from his actual name to his personal and 
professional background.  The fact that Ruiz is not 
particularly  well-known is of less concern to Post than the 
question about his true name and his apparent reticence to 
share details of his background.  This lack of details raises 
some red flags for us. 
PALMER 

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