If you thought that the audio revealed this morning was eyebrow-raising, wait to hear about these ones. During the afternoon, La Nación published excerpts of two much more suspicious audios. The first one is an audio message that a Border Patrol officer sent another one, saying that one of their peers “apparently said that the one who had [Santiago] Maldonado in the truck was Sergeant Sartirana.”
The outlet indicates that they are making reference to Sergio Sartirana, who was driving one of the pick-up trucks that were used during the operation where Maldonado was last allegedly seen. Sartirana was in the same unit as Emmanuel Echazú, who had his jaw broken in two places after being hit by a rock thrown by the protesters. He was one of the eight officers who made it to the Chubut riverbank and is under heavier scrutiny than his peers who didn’t, because the events that took place there are not quite clear.
The other audio, sent on August 4, reveals a message where an officer seems to be transmitting orders from a superior: “They are saying to get the vehicles out, to hide them.” The investigators will have to determine if the officer was making reference to the vehicles used during the operation and, if this is the case, the reason to hide them. We’ll see if this leads to something.
Practically at the same time, a Federal Appeals Court upheld a request made by Maldonado’s family and backed by Prosecutor Norberto Bellver to remove Judge Guido Otranto from the investigation. He will be replaced by Rawson – Chubut’s capital city – Federal Judge Gustavo Lleral, who will be exclusively dedicated to the case for 60 days.
Analysis being conducted on the phones that belong to the Border Patrol officials who were part of the operation where Santiago Maldonado was last allegedly seen continues to raise eyebrows as things continue to take a turn for the weird.
Yesterday, it was revealed that one of the officers sent an audio message to their superior saying that they “had fired at [the protesters] a couple of times,” and that “that would serve them right.” The audio didn’t clarify whether they shot rubber or led bullets, but did further confirm that there were clashes between the forces and the protesters.
Today, Clarín reported that a high-ranking officer from the force was heard in an audio message talking about a “body floating in the river.” The language is rather vague and doesn’t confirm whether there was effectively a lifeless body floating in the Chubut river, but it was enough to draw the investigators’ attention, who included the conversation in the case file.
In the audio message from August 9 currently being investigated, the officer is heard saying: “It’s obvious that no one took anyone [said the officer, denying that the officers apprehended Maldonado], there were people under your command that allegedly hit some [protester] who was floating in the river with rocks, and their companions took them out”. In his answer, officer Daniel Gómez — whose phone was found to contain that message — says that he “saw three people swimming, but no one floating.”
Gómez is one of the eight Border Patrol officers who are under heavy scrutiny than the rest of the squad involved in the operation, as they were the ones who went after the members of the Mapuche community who ended up crossing the Chubut river to escape them. In fact, it was him who sent the message mentioned above.
Gómez testified before Federal Judge Guido Otranto roughly two weeks ago regarding his actions during the operation. He didn’t mention having shot anyone and said that he did make it to the riverbank, but when he did so the protesters were already on the other side.
Judge Otranto Seems to be Getting Warmer
Federal Prosecutor before Comodoro Rivadavia’s Court of Appeals, Norberto Bellver, assured today that he considers there is “enough evidence” to remove Judge Otranto from the case investigating Maldonado’s disappearance.
The 28-year-old tattoo artist’s family officially requested Otranto be recused — removed, in non-legal terms — from the case, as they consider the investigation he is leading is “inefficient,” but he refused to leave.
However, Bellver agrees with Maldonado’s family. Mainly because he thinks that in an interview he gave to La Nación last week, Otranto made a judgement without conclusive evidence when he said that “the most concrete theory points at him having drowned.”
“It’s all subjective and what may be enough of a reason for me might not be so to the Court of Appeals. We have gone through the request and we decided to uphold it,” Bellver said in a radio interview. But as he said, the Court has the last word on this.