(Toronto, Ontario and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala) - A Guatemalan court today acquitted Mynor Padilla of murdering Guatemalan community leader and indigenous activist Adolfo Ich in 2009, when Padilla was the head of security for a large mine in Guatemala then owned by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals. Padilla was also acquitted of the point blank shooting of another community member German Chub, now paralyzed for life. Ich's wife and others are pursuing a lawsuit against Hudbay Minerals in Canada regarding these incidents. The lawsuits in Canada have received worldwide attention as a precedent for holding multinational mining companies liable in their "home" country for abuses at mines they operate abroad.
"Unfortunately, this acquittal in Guatemala is what we always expected and predicted," said Murray Klippenstein, one of the lawyers for Ich's widow. "The Guatemalan legal system is corrupt and seeking justice there is, sadly, hopeless, especially against large international corporate interests like Hudbay. It is common for judges to be bribed, witnesses threatened, and powerful interests protected. That's precisely why Angelica's and German's best hope for justice against Hudbay has always been in Canadian courts."
In addition to the acquittal, the Guatemalan judge went much farther into unexpected territory by asking for the extreme step that criminal charges be brought against most of those involved in the prosecution of Mynor Padilla, including not only against the victims of the violence, but also various witnesses for the prosecution, and even a prosecutor, for alleged "crimes" such as false testimony, obstruction of justice, forgery of public documents, and document tampering.
The court said it would release lengthy reasons for its decision on April 18, 2017. Mr. Klippenstein commented that "This apparent initiation of criminal charges against the victims and the prosecution is alarming and borders on the truly bizarre. We are awaiting the actual written decision and will comment further then, but for now, it seems to us that this turns justice on its head by attempting to convert victims into criminals, and justifies and amplifies the serious consensus international concerns about the dysfunctionality of the Guatemalan justice system. It is also very sad that a Canadian mining company is part of this mess."
The "not guilty" verdict comes despite damning eyewitness testimony of the murder, and ballistic and forensic evidence linking both Mynor Padilla and other mine company security personnel under his control to the shooting. The trial featured numerous irregularities and disturbing events, including an order from the judge barring the public and journalists from the court room for alleged "security reasons" for the majority of the trial, the fact that Hudbay funded testimony in support of the accused, and an incident that occurred last September in which the home of Ich's widow and children was the target of a midnight gunfire attack. The acquittal of Mynor Padilla has raised fears that the victims and their families may be subject to acts of retaliation and violence for their role in pursuing justice.
The verdict did not change the resolve of Angelica Choc and others to continue pursuing Hudbay Minerals in their Canadian lawsuit. "We never expected justice in Guatemalan courts. We will continue pursuing it in Canadian courts," she said. A Canadian court issued a landmark decision in 2013 allowing the case to proceed against Hudbay in Ontario. Hudbay has been required to turn over to Angelica's lawyers thousands of internal corporate documents, which her lawyers are now reviewing.
More information can be found at www.chocversushudbay.com.