Man suspected of drug trafficking sues Peruvian journalists and media outlets for defamation and asks for $210 million

Note: This story has been updated to include responses received from Óscar Castilla late the night of Nov. 8.

Peruvian and North American citizen Miguel Arévalo Ramírez has filed several suits against Peruvian journalists and media for aggravated defamation, Ojo Público reported on Nov. 7. Ramírez filed the complaint against the media outlets for having reported the investigations against him by the Peruvian Police Department's Anti-Drug Directorate (Dirandro), the Peruvian Anti-Drug Prosecutor's Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and asks for US $210 million in reparation.

In addition to Ojo-Público.com and its director Óscar Castilla, the proceedings target newspapers La República and El Comercio, Compañía Peruana de Radiodifusión (which operates América Televisión) and Agencia Perú Producciones (which operates WillaxTv), as well as journalists Edmundo Cruz (La República), Cecilia Valenzuela (WillaxTv) and Miguel Ramírez (El Comercio), and the Peruvian Ministry of Interior's anti-drug prosecutor, Sonia Medina Calvo.

In May 2016, a joint investigation between Ojo Público and La República resulted in the report written by Castilla and Cruz on a DEA and Dirandro investigation of Arévalo, known as "Eteco." The text said that the DEA and Dirandro consider Arévalo "one of the biggest drug bosses in Peru" and referred to the investigation of "a gigantic underground drug money laundering network in Lima, Miami and different Central American countries.”

According to the report, the two entities also investigated Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, who was then congressman and secretary general of the Fuerza Popular party and was the largest donor of the presidential campaign of former candidate Keiko Fujimori, who was runner-up in the elections held in mid-2016.

In the first complaint before the Peruvian court, Arévalo accuses the two authors of the report of defamation and asks for three years of imprisonment for each of them, in addition to a civil reparation in the amount of US $10 million. He also calls for a two-year suspension of Ojo Público’s activities. The complaint has been awaiting a ruling from the 11th Criminal Court of the Superior Court of Lima since October, according to Ojo Público.

In the second complaint, this time with the 29th Criminal Court of Lima, Arévalo also included other media and a journalist that reported on the initial report. He asks the Superior Court of Lima to decide between three and six years in prison for Oscar Castilla, Cecilia Valenzuela and anti-drug prosecutor Sonia Medina Calvo - interviewed by Valenzuela on the case - and another $100 million in civil reparations. In addition to Ojo Público, the newspapers La República and El Comercio and the Compañía Peruana de Radiodifusión (América Televisión) and Agencia Perú Producciones (WillaxTv) channels were included.

A third complaint targets journalist Miguel Ramírez, a former editor of investigative reports at El Comercio. Arévalo asks for six years in prison and $100 million of reparation from Ramírez, in addition to the suspension of his column "Stories Never Told" in the newspaper El Trome, of the group El Comercio, for two years. Ramírez also referred to Arévalo as an alleged narco-trafficker in his articles, said Ojo Público, which is also included in the suit as civil third party, along with El Comercio. The complaint was lodged in October at the 21st Criminal Court in Lima.

"I heard about the complaints a few days ago, through a third person that I prefer not to identify, and then I confirmed this information with the Judiciary," Óscar Castilla, director of Ojo Público and the target of two of Arévalo’s suits, told the Knight Center. "The courts have not yet officially notified us of the three lawsuits due to the fact that they are in the process of qualification, what they call in judicial jargon the period in which the judge analyzes whether to open proceedings against the accused."

Castilla also recalled that these cases are added to another complaint from Arévalo against Ojo Público and other media, sent in October last year. On the occasion, Arévalo went to court against Google, El Comercio, La República, Caretas, WillaxTv, América Televisión, Canal N, Hildebrandt en sus trece and Ojo Público asking for the withdrawal of all articles published by these media about his alleged relations with drug trafficking.

According to Castilla, on that occasion these media united in "a common front," which was important "so that the Judiciary sees that the press is united, regardless of different editorial interests, to face a common threat." He also said that the media and journalists targeted in the latest complaints are also currently in touch on the issue.

According to Ojo Público, in the four lawsuits, signed by Arévalo and his lawyer, Juan Alejandría Castro, the plaintiff used adjectives such as "irresponsible," "miserable," "corrupt" and "criminal" to refer to journalists and the anti-drug prosecutor. He also said he will not rest until the defendants "pay with the full weight of the law in Peru and the United States."

In its note, Ojo Público says it has rejected "any defamatory attempt against Arévalo when reporting based on documents held by Dirandro, on confidential reports from the DEA and on reports that also reached the public prosecutor in the context of investigations for laundering of drug trafficking money.”

For Castilla, "This case is particular because it raises several complaints at almost the same time, for a million dollar sum, asking for years of prison and considering the media as civilly responsible third parties."

"Even when a citizen is free to file a complaint, I believe that the Judicial Power of Peru must be up to the circumstances and rule out any complaint that only aims to stop the work of investigative journalist and threaten freedom of expression," the director of Ojo Público said. "We are respectful of judicial actions, but it is clear that we are facing an attempt at intimidation, clear and direct, that only intends to prevent us from continuing to report on events that have already been reported by the security agencies of the Peruvian State in recent years."

*Paola Nalvarte assisted with this report.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.