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Second anniversary of José Luis Cabezas' murder

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is a 22 January 1999 RSF press release in commemoration of the second anniversary of the murder of journalist José Luis Cabezas:

Friday 22 January 1999
For immediate release

Press Release

Argentina: second anniversary of José Luis Cabezas' death

Reporters sans frontières expresses concern that investigators have been unable to identify both the author of the crime and a motive

On 25 January 1999, two years will have passed since José Luis Cabezas was executed in Pinamar and found dead in his charred automobile. The investigation was closed in December 1998 by judge Macchi of the city Dolorès. In principle, the trial will take place next May in this same city, in the middle of the presidential election campaign. After two years of investigations, neither the author of the crime nor a motive have been found.

Reporters sans frontières (RSF) regrets that the investigation was not carried out to term. The organisation recalls the importance of the fight against impunity. As such, RSF finds it necessary to go beyond the "underling's trial." "The person or persons behind the murder must be unmasked, tried and convicted," affirms the international organisation for the defence of press freedom.

According to some, the Noticias magazine photographer was preparing to publish uncomfortable revelations for Alfredo Yabran, a rich businessman. Thanks to his logistical means - he was the owner, directly or indirectly, of the private mail company OCA - he allegedly ran the drug trade in Pinamar and other coastal beaches with the complicity of local police. Regional justice authorities, close to those in power, allegedly looked the other way. Cabezas was apparently too curious. His curiosity killed him.

If Judge Macchi was less than pugnacious in his search for the truth, other Dolorès judges did try to learn more. On 17 April 1998, judges Dupuy, Begué and Yalton of the Dolorès penal chamber, gave a decision severely critical of judge Macchi, accusing him of not having seriously led his inquiry and of having committed some important procedural errors. They asked him to deepen his investigation of the twenty individuals to whom the crime was attributed and of the police officers who were serving in Pinamar at the time of Cabezas' murder. Without mentioning his name, they also suggested he look Yabran's way for more information.

The implicit accusations against Yabran were notably based on the testimony of Daniel Cibert, a property owner in the region, who declared that shortly before his death, José Luis Cabezas allegedly told him that he feared that A. Yabran would have him executed. Cabezas allegedly stated that Yabran was a member of a drug cartel associated with the Pinamar police. Further to this tough decision made by the three judges, judge Macchi ordered the arrest of A. Yabran on 15 May 1998, who did not spontaneously appear before the court in Dolorès, preferring to hide out at one of his properties. One thousand kilometres to the north. On 20 May 1998, A. Yabran was found dead on this property, and, as such, all eventual charges against him were dropped.

What is the situation today? Fifteen individuals are charged, some of whom are in jail. Judge Macchi did not find it useful to charge ex-commissioner Albert Gomez, who was police chief in Pinamar at the time of events. Those charged claim that they had simply been asked to give Cabezas "a lesson" but never to kill him. Among them, two have accused each other of the murder: former police officer Gustavo Prellezo and a delinquent, Jose Luis Braga, considered to be dim-witted. Mr. Rios, the head of A. Yabran's bodyguards, allegedly asked G. Prellezo to recruit henchmen. A. Yabran was apparently furious that Cabezas had photographed him and published the negative. He subsequently allegedly ordered that a lesson be given to the Noticias journalist in order to intimidate him.

On 25 January 1999, a number of events will take place across Argentina: a photo exhibition sponsored by Reporters sans frontières, a silent walk at midnight in Pinamar, a vigil until the time of his death at 5:20 in the morning. In Buenos Aires, a minute of silence will be observed and 24 torches will be lit to symbolise the 24 months since his death. 24 addresses will be given "for justice and against impunity."

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