This statement was originally published on abraji.org.br on 14 May 2020.
Three months after the murder of journalist Léo Veras, the investigation has still not identified the person responsible for the crime. He was shot 12 times while dining with his family at his home in Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay. On 1 May 2020, in the same city, the police arrested Waldemar Pereira Rivas, known as “Cachorrão”, who had been on the run since February and is considered the main suspect in having planned Veras’s murder. He was detained after being recognized by Paraguayan police, after causing a traffic accident.
Taken the next day to Asunción, Rivas was charged by prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, who leads the task force investigating the case, with intentional homicide and criminal association. According to reports, “Cachorrão” is part of the drug trafficking gang of the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) operating on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
Rivas denies the crime and already stated, in a radio interview, in February 2020, that he was a friend of the victim and that he could prove this. The journalist’s widow and family continue to be escorted 24 hours a day by the Paraguayan police. They prefer not to comment on the case and await the trial.
“Cachorrão” lives a few blocks from the murdered journalist’s house and is the owner of a white Jeep Renegade, which allegedly was used to transport the three men who were at Léo Veras’s house on the night of his execution. Reportedly Rivas has a video to be presented in court to confirm his version, which is that he has a similar car and that he did not take part in the attack. However, thus far, this video has not been presented to the Paraguayan Public Prosecutor’s Office.
There is also information, not confirmed by the authorities, that he lodged one of the gunmen who broke into the journalist’s home. Two entered through the front door and the third, who entered through the side street, ended up being shot by one of his cronies. Neighbours of the dead journalist saw the assailant being removed from the scene by the other two. His identity has not yet been revealed.
According to prosecutor Marco Amarilla, who is part of the task force, evidence is being collected and will be analyzed during the investigation. The next step will be the conclusive application, that is, the complaint against the accused who will be brought to court. Amarilla explained that, in Paraguay, the court has no citizens jury, as in Brazil. The case will be heard by three judges, sometime in 2020, with the presence of a prosecutor and the defendant’s defense. Due to security measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paraguayan courts are expected to return in the week of May 18, 2020.
The prosecutor said that the involvement of Ederson Salinas Benítez, known as Salinas Ryguasu, head of the PCC in the region, was not ruled out. The drug dealer was arrested at dawn on 20 January 2020, during a traffic incident that resulted in his arrest. After being overtaken by a driver cursing and brandishing a gun, Ryguasu went after the driver, cut him off and got out with his gun in hand, shouting that he was the boss and was in charge in the area. The confrontation was interrupted by the police, and he was arrested.
Upon arriving at the police station, he presented a Brazilian ID document with the name of Edson Barbosa Salinas and, as there was nothing in the police record, the judge on duty set bail of R$ 80,000 for his release. The suspect would have been released were it not for information passed to the justice by the Federal Police. Federal Police agents, with the assistance of the Paraguayan police, confirmed that the Brazilian document was false and that the prisoner’s true identity was Ederson Salinas Benitez, or Ryguasu.
At the time, information circulated that Léo Veras was responsible for informing the authorities of the true identity of the drug trafficker. For this reason, Salinas Ryguasu allegedly gave the order for the journalist to be executed.
On 11 March 2020, a habeas corpus benefited Ryguasu, and the drug trafficker left the Dourados State Penitentiary, where he had been imprisoned since January 2020, after submitting ten coupons that added up to the bail amount. He was informed that he would have to appear every month to provide evidence of where he was residing. However, in accordance with Judge Marcelo Guimarães, due to the security measures taken after the pandemic, this obligatory measure was suspended. The tribunals in Ponta Porã, where he was arrested, are handling only urgent cases of arrested defendants.
Tim Lopes Program
The murder of journalist Léo Veras is the third case to be included in the Tim Lopes Program, developed by Abraji, with support from the Open Society Foundations, to combat violence against journalists and impunity for the responsible parties.
In the case of crimes linked to the exercise of the journalistic profession, a network of traditional and independent media outlets is created to monitor the investigations and to publish reports following up on the denouncements on which the journalist was working until he/she was killed. Currently these media outlets are part of the network: Agência Pública, Correio (BA), O Globo, Poder 360, Ponte Jornalismo, Projeto Colabora, TV Aratu, TV Globo and Veja.
The murder of broadcaster Jefferson Pureza, 39, in Edealina Goiás, on 17 January 2018, was the first case investigated under this program. The journalist was killed while resting on his home’s veranda. Former councillor José Eduardo Alves da Silva, 41, was accused of being the mastermind and, in the 2019 trial, he chose to remain silent. At the time, a security guard, Marcelo Rodrigues dos Santos, 40, was also tried, accused of having connected the councillor with some minors who carried out the shooting. According to investigations, the murder was negotiated for R $ 5,000 and a revolver.
In a hearing on 9 December 2019, a citizens’ jury acquitted the two accused of involvement in the crime, despite recognizing their role in the case and in the corruption of minors who committed the murder. The prosecution appealed for a retrial.
The second case involves radio broadcaster Jairo de Sousa, 43, who died at dawn on 21 June 2018, after being shot twice in the chest when he arrived at work at the Pérola FM radio station, in Bragança, Pará. The suspected mastermind is councillor Cesar Monteiro. He reportedly hired a group of ten people to carry out the crime. According to the investigation records, the murder allegedly cost R$ 30,000.
In May 2019, city councillor César Monteiro had his preventive detention revoked, after the Pará Court of Justice granted him a habeas corpus. However, on 8 April 2019, he was arrested again on charges of killing the radio host. There is still no date set for a citizens’ jury.
Source: MEDIA FEED