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Jason Puracal

  

Country: Nicaragua

Arrested: November 11, 2010

Status: Released


OVERVIEW

Jason Puracal’s case has all the elements of a textbook ShowTrial.  His case was marked by fabricated charges, pervasive corruption, inhumane treatment and abuse, courtroom injustices, involvement of powerful government figures, complex bilateral negotiations, and sophisticated use of the media.

The story of Puracal’s arrest and imprisonment is important because it highlights the risks that so many Americans unknowingly face when they travel to Nicaragua to live, work, or vacation.  Nicaragua is a country that boasts of its low crime rate, and it remains a popular destination for young backpackers and surfers alike.  However, Nicaragua has become a hotspot for institutional kidnappings, and Americans are particularly vulnerable due to a history of strained relations between the US Government and this formerly Communist country.  Most tourists naively believe Nicaragua has a low crime rate because it is peaceful.  The truth is that Nicaragua’s citizens are scared to commit crimes; they live in fear of the heavy-handed and corrupt network of former state security officials (KGB-trained) that permeates nearly every aspect of civil society. 

Jason Puracal fell victim to this corrupt and powerful network.  While investigating an alleged drug trafficking ring, Nicaraguan authorities could not discern how the money was being moved.  With no evidence, they invented a money laundering scenario and implicated Jason Puracal—a man envied by many locals for his successful real estate business.

The two-year period of Puracal’s detainment was fraught with corruption and abuse at every turn. Ultimately, Puracal’s defense team had to rely on creative and unconventional means to exonerate him—including strategic use of the media to spotlight the Nicaraguan President’s support for a local ecological coffee farm of which Puracal was a partial owner.  The family hired The David House Agency to manage the case. This resulted in key pressure being applied in the form of private lobbying, a public relations campaign, US Congressional threats to cancel aid, and other tactics.  Ultimately, a sophisticated combination of pressure points was leveraged and the case reached a tipping point resulting in Puracal’s release.

BACKGROUND

Jason Puracal is an American who first moved to Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  He fell in love with the country and his future wife while in Nicaragua.  Puracal and his wife started a family and Jason started a real estate business in the seaside village of San Juan del Sur.

CASE REPORT

Puracal had been living in Nicaragua for eight years when, on November 11, 2010, a group of armed, masked officers entered Puracal’s office in San Juan del Sur and arrested him without evidence and without a warrant.  He was held at La Modelo Prison where he was physically abused and refused a balanced diet and drinkable water.

“Despite extensively searching his property, drugs were not presented at trial”

Puracal was charged with drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime.  Despite extensively searching his property, drugs were not presented at trial.  There were no witnesses linking him to the crimes he was accused of, and the prosecution’s own witness testified no money changed hands between Puracal and the ten other alleged colluders.

Throughout his two-year detainment, Puracal’s case was enveloped in corrupt conduct.  Under Nicaraguan law, prisoners are not to be detained for more than three months without a trial.  Puracal’s trial took place nine months after his arrest.  The judge presiding over the case, Krigger Artola Narvaez, was improperly appointed.  He was never a practicing, licensed attorney, nor was he inscribed to the bench as required by the Nicaraguan Constitution.  Narvaez was therefore sworn in as a judge without the Supreme Court’s approval.  Since the trial, Narvaez has fled the country.

“Evidence proving the alleged illegal money was actually Puracal’s clients’ money in escrow was not permitted”

During the trial, key defense witnesses were banned from testifying.  Evidence proving the alleged illegal money was actually Puracal’s clients’ money in escrow was not permitted.  The prosecutor’s own expert testified he did not understand escrow or how it worked.  Despite all of this, Puracal was sentenced to twenty-two years in La Modelo Prison, notorious for its inhumane and unsanitary conditions and abusive treatment by officials.

After the well-known human rights attorney Jared Genser from Persius Strategies filed a petition with The United Nations, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Puracal’s detainment was in violation of international law.  Forty-three U.S. Congressmen from the House of Representatives sent a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega urging him to order an independent review of the case.

It was not until eleven months after Puracal was sentenced and three months after the United Nations called for his immediate release that an appeal hearing was set.  A three-judge panel presided over the appeal.  After two extensions, exceeding the legally established time frame of five days, a verdict was handed down.  After spending two years in prison, where he was beaten and refused food, water, and needed medical care, the trial was annulled and Puracal ordered to be released.  The U.S. government was able to negotiate with Nicaraguan immigration authorities to allow him to leave the country during a long holiday weekend.

CURRENT STATUS / AFTERMATH

Since Puracal’s release, the Nicaraguan prosecutor has not relented.  The prosecutor has filed an appeal with the Nicaraguan Supreme Court to reinstate Puracal’s original twenty-two year sentence. Forced to continue his defense, Puracal has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  He has asked the Commission to demand Nicaragua institute judicial, law enforcement, and prison reforms.  He has also requested initiatives to provide clean water and medical care to prisoners in La Modelo Prison and called for the closure of El Chipote, the torture facility Puracal was initially held.

Jason’s sister, Janis Puracal, an accomplished attorney prior to her brother’s case was exposed to the innocence movement and the important need for experts in this field. Though she continues her private practice at Maloney Lauersdorf Reiner, she is the founding member of the Oregon Innocence Project.