The Sunday Independent carried a story yesterday, Bogota court slams Colombia Three’s evidence as ‘naive’ and ‘not credible’ , in which it claims to have seen the 144 page appeal court Judgement.
THE Colombia Three’s explanations for holidaying in an area controlled by Farc guerrillas have been dismissed as “naive” and “not credible” in a scathing judgement by appeal judges in Bogota.
The entire 144-page appeal judgement, obtained by the Sunday Independent, ripped apart the evidence put forward by James Monaghan, 59, Martin McCauley, 42, and Niall Connolly, 39, and undermines expert witnesses.
Monaghan and McCauley, both convicted IRA terrorists, were portrayed by the judges as insolvent individuals who did not have the means to travel to Colombia under their own steam, as they had claimed.
The judgement also dismissed key aspects of their defence, including video evidence claiming to show that one of the men was in Ireland at a time when Farc informers put him in Colombia.
The three judges overturned a previous acquittal to sentence them to 17 years in jail for providing terrorist training to rebels. Monaghan and McCauley, who are regarded as IRA bomb experts, and Connolly, Sinn Fein’s envoy in Cuba, went on the run after the sentences were passed down last month, prompting an international police hunt.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has pleaded with the men to give themselves up so they can complete the legal process.
When caught travelling on false passports at El Dorado Airport in August 2001, the trio had alternately claimed to be tourists, birdwatchers and observers of the Colombian peace process.
They were stopped on foot of military police intelligence on their return from an area controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
In April of last year, themen were found guilty of travelling on false passports, but were acquitted of training Farc terrorists.
Following an appeal by Colombian prosecutors, Judge Jairo Acosta’s findings were overturned and the three were sentenced to 17 years each on the basis of circumstantial evidence against them.
The judgement showed that they failed to convince the appeal judges that they had the means to travel around the world, stopping off in various cities en route to Colombia.
The judgement found that the ex-prisoner status of Monaghan and McCauley made it difficult for them to find steady jobs, leaving them dependent on their wives, or on temporary work.
The appeal judges also questioned Connolly’s financial means. He worked in Cuba as a translator, where he was Sinn Fein’s envoy. They pointed out that, despite this, he entered Colombia from Madrid. “Could it be that a translator in Cuba earns enough to come to Colombia for holidays via Madrid?”
They considered it improbable that Monaghan and McCauley should embark on a holiday in Colombia without having organised the trip through a travel agency.
It was particularly strange, they said, that Monaghan stated that he worked for Coiste na nIarchimi, an NGO in Ireland, but didn’t plan his trip to ensure that he could get back to work on time.
“Even more unusual,” said the judgement, “was the fact that his trip ended in Paris, a city he was not in mind to visit – according to his own explanation.”
Nor did they believe Monaghan’s account that he was preparing an article on the Colombian peace process.
They said that Monaghan, a convicted IRA man and mortar-bomb specialist, had no notes, interviews or articles to show he was conducting an investigation. He had a video camera, but the tapes were blank. Forensic examination failed to demonstrate whether they were always blank or whether their contents had been erased.
“The absence of evidence to back up their claims makes it impossible to believe their naive explanations – that some came over here on holidays, and the other to practise Spanish.”
If Connolly really did work as a translator, the judgement added, he would have already been “proficient in both languages”.
“The accused dare to say that they were there for a little more than a month without encountering a single guerrilla fighter that could have stopped their free movement in the zone, or that their entry went unnoticed and that it was the most appropriate place to spend a few daysholidays.”
The judgement concluded that their presence in the country was other than what they claimed: “Their explanations have been totally discredited.”
The fact that they travelled on false passports to Colombia, and that Monaghan and Connolly had inexplicably travelled to neighbouring countries on false passports in the past was seen as being of vital importance. It linked them to evidence given by two Farc informers who claimed to have seen the Irishmen during previous visits.
The judges also rejected defence evidence including a series of videos purportedly showing Jim Monaghan at a conference in Ireland at a time when Farc informers put him in Colombia.
The appeal judges were wary of the video evidence, which was found to have a number of inconsistencies following expert examination. They also took note of the fact the recording claims to date from February 21, 2001. A public notice on the wall, clearly visible in the video, is dated September 1997.
The judgement also reserved harsh criticism for members of the Coiste organisation who gave evidence which purported to show that Mr Monaghan was involved in humanitarian tasks with the institution.
The judges said the evidence was a “manipulation” and “a montage of evidence”. The judgement said it was not logical that, if he was linked to this institution during 2001, he could go on a long trip without any impact on his work.
The appeal judges accepted the accounts of two Farc informers, but acknowledged discrepancies in dates and times. The judgement found that the informers were credible because they both agreed on the same point: that the three Irishmen were in the one area, that they were training members of the Farc militia and they were handing out weapons not used in Colombia before.
The testimony of Dr Keith Borer, a key defence witness, also came in for particular scrutiny. The judgement disregarded his evidence as “fictitious” and “fantastic”.
Dr Borer, who was described in court as an international forensics expert, was hired to refute the forensic tests carried out on the clothes and belongings of the three Irishmen.
Tests conducted on the mens’ belongings by the Colombian authorities provided contradictory results. One set of tests, using American equipment, found traces of explosives, while another set of tests, using Colombian equipment, proved negative. Dr Borer said that “American” tests were flawed; he said the mens’ belongings could have been contaminated and that proper procedures were not followed.
The judgement queried Borer’s conclusions. It said he did not visit the detention area and questioned how “a person who considers himself to have a high degree of credibility in the Irish and English criminal area” could consider himself a technical witness without knowing how the unit in charge of the detention centre functioned, before formulating a judgement about the contamination of belongings of the accused.
“The technical witness assessment is exaggerated, baseless, outdated and weakened in the face of the events.”
The appeal judges took issue with Judge Acosta for accepting the attempts by the defence to discredit the intelligence that led to the arrest of the men at El Dorado Airport, and the subsequent arrest when Martin McCauley admitted that he was travelling on a false passport. The judges said the military police were acting within their powers.
Spanish translations by Javier Aja, Ireland correspondent of Efe, the national news agency of Spain
© Irish Independent