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Romina Picolotti, the founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), originally based in Argentina and now moved to the United States, came out swinging today through the Argentine media source Perfil, accusing the Argentine Justice System of a political persecution that has lasted nearly 10 years. In a brief statement to Perfil, she specifically pointed at Prosecutor Diego Luciani, who illegally leaked information to the press about alleged violations by Picolotti of her travel reports submitted to the Argentine consulate in Florida while the Argentine Justice System sluggishly carries on with a decade-long case against her which Picolotti says is absurd, trumped up and based on political interests.
Controversy arose when the case prosecutor last week provided local media hub Infobae with leaked information about stamps in Picolotti’s passport, which according to Luciani, suggest Picolotti had not been duly informing her international travel to the justice system, as was mandated by the court for her to reside abroad while her case works through the judicial process (she currently works and lives in the United States).
“Luciani’s accusations are false”, says Picolotti. He always uses Infobae to leak information, showing once again evidence of the obsessive and absurd persecution against me by the Argentine Judicial System which can only be aimed at thwarting my advocacy to promote environmental protection against some of the country’s biggest contaminators”.
Luciani’s claims are allegedly based on his analysis of Picolotti’s passport stamps, which he obtained through an international request to the Argentine Consulate in Miami Florida, where Picolotti regularly informs her international travel, while the never-ending decade-long case against her sloths through the Argentine Judicial System. But Picolotti says the prosecutor lightly and irresponsibly misinterprets the stamps in her passport, confusing a transit stamp issued in Iceland for a final destination stamp, which was made when she was on route to France for a high level climate change meeting at the UN’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition. For this reason, Luciani tells Infobae that Picolotti traveled to Iceland and never informed the court. She informed, of course, says Picolotti, of her travel to France, the final destination of the trip.
This gross error by Luciani, says Picolotti to the Perfil newspaper, not only shows Luciani’s ignorance, but also the clumsy, irresponsible and failed investigative due-diligence by the prosecutor. “He ignores basic international travel bureaucracy, and employs deceiving half-truths to intentionally build a fantastical case against me, with the sole purpose of damaging my reputation and continuing incessantly with this unfounded case”, says Picolotti to Perfil.
Picolotti served as Environment Secretary of Argentina from 2006-2008, and led climate negotiations leading up to the Copenhagen Summit. She also harnessed political support from hundreds of countries under a multilateral agreement to accelerate the phase out of climate pollutants under the Montreal Protocol, an effort for which she and Argentina received global recognition, including a prize from the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. Her work today continues incisively focused on global climate negotiations, for which she travels frequently, oftentimes hindered by Argentina’s persistent and politically motivated legal case against her that is now approaching the decade mark, without a single hearing or advancement to trial. Last year, the Argentine Prosecutor had maliciously intervened against her when the renewal of her permit to live abroad came up, resulting in a two-month delay for her to return to her family and work, while in Argentina for administrative reasons related to her case. Luciani ignores all information about the reason for her travel in his leaked information to the press; Picolotti argues his intensions are clearly oriented to smear her.
“I have nothing to hide”, says Picolotti. “This judicial persecution against me is arbitrary and ilegal. The court system has systematically violated my rights, causing permanent harm to me, to my family and to the organization I run. I wonder why the justice system in Argentina doesn’t pursue the companies that are destroying glaciers, contaminating rivers, and shunning applicable environmental law.”
As Secretary of Environment and through the non-profit organization she founded, the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), Picolotti defended activists that suffered similar trumped up cases, including from the communities of Gualeguaychu against the arrival of two mega-sized pulp mills, the community of Andalgala, Catamarca, which opposed a large mining project situated above their main water source, and communities of La Rioja, where mining companies, including at one point Barrick Gold were trying to mine for gold in glacier and periglacial terrain, now protected by a Glacier Law Picolotti helped get passed when she was Environment Secretary. These communities have suffered systematic police and judicial repression, with similar lengthy lawsuits against environmental leaders aimed at slowing advocacy and “criminalizing” environmental and human rights activism. Today, Romina Picolotti and CHRE are fervent advocates for the closure of a large gold mining operation by Barrick Gold called Pascua Lama, valued at over $10billion and have come out strongly against the untamed expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the ecologically sensitive Patagonia Region. At key moments of advocacy in these arenes, the judicial case against her seems to get revived, inching forward as if to warn her that environmental activism equates revived judicial persecution.
The Justice System, argues Picolotti, persecutes environmentalist in complicity with industrial and political interests. This judicial persecution aimed against me is “abusive and arbitrary”, and has been ongoing for nearly 10 years. The Argentine criminal code establishes a four month time-limit for the court system to bring its investigation to close and move to trial. But closing a case too quickly doesn’t achieve the political objetive behind the persecution, which is vilifying and thwarting activism. Incredibly, Picolotti’s case, focusing on alleged mismanagement of public funds presented by the political opposition to the government she served, has dragged on for a decade during most of which it has been in the investigative phase (that’s nearly 120 months or 30 times the statute of limitations allowed for a criminal investigation).
The original accusations filed against Picolotti surfaced in 2007 when as Environment Secretary, she began to force her way in to controlling large-scale mining operations, hitherto out of the federal environment agency’s jurisdiction. She also launched a major river basin clean up program, tackling one of Latin America’s most contaminated river systems, the Matanza Riachuelo in the heart of Buenos Aires. This involved addressing systemic historical contamination and a non-compliance culture for much of Argentina’s dirtiest industries, including oil and gas and petrochemical companies, tanneries, metal works, dairy producers, and others. With help from the US EPA, Picolotti hired hundreds of new inspectors, trained them on environmental auditing (something the Secretariat had never carried out) and set out on cracking down on contaminators.
From nearly zero-control over contaminators, the Environment Secretariat under her leadership carried out 9,000 public acts of environmental compliance, closed down over 120 companies, levied fines and forced the hand of some of the worst companies to come up with emergency clean up plans. To the delight of environmentalists, she even ordered a temporary full closure of Shell’s largest Latin American oil refinery after finding over 800 violations of the environmental code. That’s when the political problems started for Picolotti. A national daily that regularly attacked the incumbent administration, published a front page story claiming the new Environment Secretary was mismanaging hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds, that she had hired hundreds of friends and family, and rented out new offices for a growing public agency that didn’t have a clear direction. It was a political sham to distract her focus from the newly invigorated and politically empowered environmental compliance agency. The political opposition, and some allege, the mining sector, came after her full swing, presenting unsubstantiated accusations against her to the federal courts.
While nearly all of these accusations filed in 2007 were eventually dropped for lack of merit, alleged new evidence was suddenly submitted mid-stream in the case, and the charges against Picolotti were modified (contrary to Argentina’s procedural code). The evidence that was spontaneously submitted to the court came in boxes that even the court recognizes have not been handled properly or which have not followed evidence handling due diligence procedures to guarantee the chain of custody by the investigative police and tribunal. On one occasion, a surprise visit by her lawyer to the tribunal found alleged evidence boxes of her case piled up on the floor, near an exit where dozens if not hundreds of people not related to the case pass daily. None of the boxes were the original cardboard boxes described in the case file. They had been replaced by shiny new plastic blue boxes which necessarily implies, says Picolotti, that someone opened and handled the evidence without any trace of responsibility. Some of the boxes had visible signs of tampering. One was missing, and there were no judicial seals on the boxes or signatures of the custodian officer guaranteeing the chain of custody.
Incredibly, at various junctures of the case, the media received leaks of court documentation and published exact photos of documents that had mysteriously appeared midstream during the case. These included meal receipts from places like Hooters (an odd destination for a human rights and woman’s right advocate like Picolotti), or supermarket and gasoline purchases from areas no-where near where Picolotti lived, worked or frequented. These mysterious receipts were circulated widely to the press who quickly attributed them to Picolotti in a broad smear campaign that only accelerated when a general media attack ensued against the outgoing former administration. Curiously, Picolotti’s lawyers, have never been able to obtain these receipts despite their multiple requests to do so, always due to one administrative excuse or another argued by the tribunal. Ironically, the dates on several of the receipts that have appeared in the press correspond to dates Picolotti is on public record of being in completely different cities or areas of the country. Her supposed signature on the receipts, claims Picolotti is not hers, but the court refused her request to carry out a handwriting test to verify this.
After a decade of ongoing investigation and never-ending turns to this meandering court case, to date, no trial has ever been held. Beyond the mishandling of evidence, many other procedural violations have occurred not only delaying Picolotti’s right to trial but also violating her right to a fair judicial process. “The court has pursued me for 10 years knowing full well that I have committed no crime, and yet the same judicial system awarded an injunction to mega-miner Barrick Gold, suspending the unanimously approved Glacier Law in a record 23 hours! It’s ludicrous!”, says Picolotti.
“I have denounced over and over again, the destruction of our glaciers and the violation of the Glacier Law. From the non-profit organization that I founded nearly 20 years ago, CHRE has published glacier inventories, showing where mining is destroying glaciers and permafrost, today protected by law. But Mr. Luciani [the Prosecutor] is more worried about whether or not I return early from a work trip or if I have a layover in Iceland for a few hours.” She also points to the fact that the federal judicial system has numerous cases before it, denouncing companies and public officials for violating the glacier law, and yet these cases are dormant for years in the tribunals. “These are the real cases, of abuses and violations of the law, that remain unaddressed by our courts”.
Finally, Romina Picolotti, laid into the Argentine court system for their repeated persecution of people and communities fighting for more equitable and sustainable development, “Environmentalists and others who defend our natural resources are systematic victims of denunciations, of repression, and unfounded judicial accusations in numerous Argentine provinces, where the only aim in such cases is to silence activism.”
Original Story that ran in the PERFIL newpaper:
Who is Romina Picolotti?: http://center-hre.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Romina-Raconto-de-Trayectoria-english.pdf
for more information:
Jorge Daniel Taillant
+1 415 713 2309