15 January 2004 Edition

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Colombia Three result to be delayed

The three Irishmen who are in jail in Bogotá, Colombia, on trumped up charges of being involved with left-wing guerrilla group FARC, have heard that the judge in their case will not reach sentencing until "after February". Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan were arrested as they tried to leave Colombia in August 2001 and charged with assisting the FARC and using false passports. Their trial finally ended in late 2003.

Judge Jairo Acosta is said to have told reporters last week that due to his workload, he will not be able to deliver a verdict on the case until at least next month. He said that he had 60 other cases to consider as well as the Irish one, which ended in late 2003. Judge Acosta had been expected to decide the case as early as this month.

Irish, Australian and American legal observers have attacked the trial of the three men, saying the process was fatally compromised after Colombian officials and senior politicians made prejudicial comments in public about the case, and that the defence evidence exonerates the three.

In a statement quoted in The Irish Echo, the Irish-American legal organisation the Brehon Law Society condemned the continued delay in the case.

"The old expression 'justice delayed is justice denied' comes immediately to mind," said spokesperson Stephen McCabe. "It has now been some 29 months since the arrest and detention of the three accused and yet no verdict has been rendered. Surely, based on the paucity of the evidence presented by the state, a verdict of acquittal is the only result that any fair-minded observer of these events could reasonably envision."

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