Journalist to be prosecuted in case of leaked documents

New York, February 2, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the prosecution of journalist Patricia Poleo on charges of illegally obtaining and disclosing sealed case documents and violating anticorruption legislation.

The Attorney General’s Office announced Monday that Poleo would be prosecuted for publicizing confidential information in the investigation into the November 2004 murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson. The government recently launched an investigation into the leak, which has been attributed to police officers.

Acting on a court order, police and prosecutors raided Poleo’s home on January 28, searched through computer diskettes, and took photocopies of documents that prosecutors allege were leaked. Poleo denied having leaked documents when she was previously summoned for questioning by prosecutor Alejandro Castillo, according to local news reports. Poleo has said that prosecutors are hiding information that could embarrass the government, and she has vowed she will not disclose her sources.

Poleo, a high-profile journalist who has supported the opposition in her work, is a columnist and director of the Caracas daily El Nuevo País, owned by her father, journalist Rafael Poleo. In December 2004 and January 2005, she reported that case documents linked Anderson to an extortion ring that included several lawyers and prosecutors.

Anderson was in charge of investigating the alleged involvement of several businessmen, politicians, and former government officials in the April 2002 coup that briefly deposed President Hugo Chávez Frías. He was blown up while driving his car in Caracas in November 18, 2004, in what some government officials termed a “terrorist act.” The police have detained three men suspected of carrying out the murder, but two other suspects are fugitives. Prosecutors continue looking for those who planned Anderson’s murder. In the wake of Anderson’s assassination, some government supporters called for the enactment of “antiterrorism” legislation.

During December 2004 and January 2005, the local press reported statements by a Caracas councilman who said that the police found a large amount of money during a search of Anderson’s apartment. The councilman, Carlos Herrera, alleged Anderson was linked to an extortion ring of lawyers and prosecutors that sought money in exchange for halting investigations.

But Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez has said prosecutors are focusing on three theories that point to retaliation against Anderson for his prosecutorial work. Rodríguez has blamed the press for focusing on the extortion allegations with the intent of deflecting attention away from those responsible for the murder of Anderson.

“We are concerned that Poleo has been singled out for prosecution,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Journalists should not be punished for reporting on matters of public interest such as the Anderson case.”