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20 de Julio del 2021
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Lectura: 22 minutos
20 de Julio del 2021
Redacción Plan V
The strange judicial history of Telmo Castro
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This is one of the few images of Telmo Castro when he was captured for the second time in 2013.

Plan V reviewed the three judicial processes that were opened against former Army Captain Telmo Castro. Two of them are for drug trafficking, and in both he received judicial favors. But in the sentences there are surprising episodes of how Sinaloa has been operating in Ecuador for several years.

ACCORDING TO THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE, THESE DOCUMENTS PROVE IRREGULARITIES IN THE PRE-RELEASE OF TELMO CASTRO

Published on 2018-12-17

The request for pre-release of former military officer Telmo Castro arrived on July 19, 2019 at the North Criminal Judicial Unit 2 of Guayaquil. And only one day later, the request already had a date for the hearing: July 31. On that day, Judge Andrea Moreno approved the pre-release of Castro, who was arrested twice for drug trafficking between 2009 and 2013. He also has two convictions: one for drug trafficking and another for money laundering. The Attorney General's Office identified him at the time as the key player in the Sinaloa cartel in Ecuador. And he was a priority target for the DEA.

His case was recalled last week during the so-called trial of the century in New York against the world's most feared and powerful drug trafficker, El Chapo Guzman. At the hearing in New York, Colombian ex-narcotics trafficker Jorge Milton Cifuentes, on a map provided by the prosecution, "drew the route they took to transport the drugs from Ecuador to Sinaloa and revealed what each shipment entailed," the BBC reported. It began in Peru, where a fishing boat set sail for the coast of Ecuador. There it was intercepted by drug-laden speedboats. The boat would then continue its course to open waters in Sinaloa where the drugs were transferred to other boats that would take them to the Mexican coast.


Chapo Guzmán has been facing the so-called trial of the century in New York since November 13

Ecuador was a strategic point and the link was Castro. Cifuentes said he bribed the army to move drugs from the Colombian border to Guayaquil and Quito. He mentioned Telmo Castro, to whom he allegedly paid USD 100 for each kilo that crossed the border. According to Cifuentes, the ex-military officer received US$600,000 for the six tons that successfully made it across the Pacific Ocean to Sinaloa. He also said that he bribed officers of the Ecuadorian and Colombian Armed Forces to give him information about the locations of the US Navy ships. The witness also said they planned to use Pemex oil tankers, the company owned by Petroleos Mexicanos, to ship cocaine from Ecuador.

11 times

HAS TELMO CASTRO BEEN BROUGHT TO COURT AFTER BEING GRANTED PRE-RELEASE LAST AUGUST. 

The Army reacted a day later and described these statements as "reckless". It clarified that Castro was not a military officer when he was arrested for the first time in 2009. The legislative commission of Sovereignty and Security of the Assembly called to appear the Minister of Defense, Oswaldo Jarrín; the commander of the Army, Javier Pérez; and the former commander, Ernesto González.

He is now out of jail. Despite serving two sentences, one of 13 years for drug trafficking and another of five years for money laundering, the judge approved Castro's pre-release. The ex-military had presented a certificate of being in the minimum security pavilion in the Guayas Deprivation of Liberty Center and that he has been active in all the events that the penitentiary center has carried out. "His treatment axes have progressively advanced", said the judge. She also mentioned that the defendant has not been sanctioned for a serious offense. Although in the judicial system it is recorded that an investigation was opened against him in 2015 for entry of prohibited items, but that hearing was never given.

In his resolution, he said that Castro was prosecuted on June 6, 2013, when the previous Penal Code was still in force. In that regulation, it was established that with 40% of the sentence, a prisoner could access the benefit of pre-release. According to the judge, the ex-military already served three-fifths of the sentence imposed. "This judge observes that during his stay he has demonstrated such insertion, he has carried them out in a permanent way".

With this criterion, Telmo Castro was granted pre-release and the judge ordered him to report on Fridays and Saturdays every 15 days until he completes his sentence. Since his release last August, he has complied with this provision 11 times. He was prohibited from leaving the country and was ordered to sleep at his home in Guayaquil. The use of an electronic shackle was not ordered, but he was required to justify that he is working in a lawful activity.

But the Ministry of Justice announced irregularities in the pre-release process. Ernesto Pazmiño, head of that Ministry, confirmed in a press conference that Castro was never in the minimum security ward as reported by the director of the Guayas Regional Prison, Grace Olvera. According to Pazmiño, Castro was always in maximum security.

Another requirement that Castro did not present was the favorability report that should have been granted by the Zonal Commission 8 of Prison Benefits. Ángel Proaño, secretary of the commission, confirmed that the petitioner's file should have been sent to the commission, but the papers never arrived, according to documents accessed by Plan V. Likewise, the law in force until 2014 prohibited the granting of benefits to those sentenced for drug trafficking. Pazmiño will investigate the Justice officials who participated in the process, including the prison director, Grace Olvera. The pre-release, he said, cannot be reversed unless Castro stops appearing in court every 15 days. He will request an investigation by the Judiciary Council and described the pre-release process as suspiciously "swift" and granted by a " pricey" justice system.

Time has made this case almost forgotten, only stirred up in recent days by its mention in the trial of El Chapo. But in the sentences against the former Army captain there are episodes worth remembering. Plan V reviewed the three sentences against Castro. There are dozens of pages that shed light on how drug trafficking is a rampant business in Ecuador.

The guardian of the 500 kilos of cocaine (2009)

In October 2009, eight people were arrested, among them two military personnel on passive duty, Telmo Castro and Rodrigo Guamán, one on active duty, Freddy Yépez, and two Colombians. It all began on the 2nd of that month on the Lago Agrio-Quito road. A group of anti-narcotics agents were finishing their shift on the highway when they saw a car and a van turn suddenly and go in the opposite direction.

The agents managed to intercept the van, while the car managed to escape for only a few kilometers. A patrol car would later catch up with it in the Baeza sector. Inside the van were two people dressed as military personnel, but when they stopped, one of them jumped into the bushes and escaped. The truck had a double bottom and the dog accompanying Antinarcotics detected the drugs. It was 492 rectangular-shaped packages with 557 kilos of cocaine. According to the Army's latest press release, the truck was disguised in a similar way as military vehicles, painted green and with fake Army logos to avoid controls.


Images of the Anniversary operation. The drugs were carried within the walls of the truck with military logos

Meanwhile, in the vehicle were three men, one of whom was Telmo Castro. According to the report, they were carrying an HK pistol, a 9 millimeter mini Glock pistol and a Smith Weasson pistol. The latter was in Castro's possession. In the hearing he said that the weapon had the respective permits and registrations in the Armed Forces Weapons Department.

This operation was called Aniversario (Anniversary), because days after the capture of the uniformed men, two Colombians and Castro's partner were also arrested. According to the police report at the time, the drugs were to be stored in a warehouse in the north of Quito, where the Colombian Jhon Christian Gallego Restrepo was shot by the police. The raids were completed in Durán, Guayas, where a warehouse complex was raided, from where the drugs left in speedboats; and in La Maná, Cotopaxi, where a laboratory was dismantled. A total of 8.3 tons of drugs were seized in the operation, which also involved a Spaniard. The drugs, said the authorities, belonged to the FARC's 48th Front.

TELMO CASTRO WAS BORN IN LOJA. HIS STORY WAS TOLD IN A NARCOCORRIDO PUBLISHED IN 2016, WHICH MENTIONS HIS HISTORY IN THE MILITARY RANKS AND HIS CAPTURES. IT IS SAID THAT HE OPERATED IN MANABÍ, SANTA ELENA AND PART OF LOS RÍOS. HE IS MENTIONED AS THE PARTNER OF 'LICENCIADO' AND CHAPO GUZMÁN.

At the time of the arrest, Castro was already listed as a businessman. But the testimonies of the defendants revealed that the ex-military officer had worked for some years in Quevedo. The Armed Forces confirmed weeks after the arrest that the captain worked in the Pichincha Intelligence Group. According to the Army, Castro asked to be released in July 2009 before being arrested, but this process only ended in January 2010. By then he already owned two houses and an apartment in Pichincha, a farm in Los Ríos, a property in Cumbaya, and three cars. His salary as a military officer was $1,200, according to La Hora newspaper that year.

In his defense, in his first version, he stated that he was a victim of threats, from an alias Caballero, who demanded that he transport the truck from Lago Agrio to Quito and that he did not know its contents. He said that this work was sometimes carried out in the company of First Lieutenant Freddy Yépez, who worked in the Intelligence detachment in Quito. In a second version he spoke of extortions and threats to his family. He claimed that the drugs were not found in his possession. But in the trial he said that he was traveling to Lago Agrio to buy a truck. He denied having guarded the truck with drugs.

The Criminal Guarantees Court of Sucumbíos heard the case of Telmo Castro and his companions. Castro was sentenced to two years in prison as an accessory to the crime of drug possession. Three months later, the same court, with a majority vote of judges Arsenio Oña and Geovanny Mancero, granted Telmo Castro Donoso the benefit of a 49% reduction of his sentence. Due to the time spent in prison, his immediate release was determined, questioned the Ministry of the Interior.

But within this process it is recorded that in the Provincial Court of Sucumbíos Castro's sentence was modified. His sentence was reduced to 20 months imprisonment. It also substituted the preventive detention in favor of Cristian Suquisapa, who later did not appear at the trial and evaded justice. For this action, judges Nicolás Zambrano and Leonardo Ordóñez Piña of the Provincial Court of Sucumbíos were dismissed on March 2, 2012.

'El Capi' (The Captain) of the light aircraft (2013)

Castro, known by the alias "El Capi," was arrested again on June 6, 2013. By then he was already considered by authorities to be Sinaloa's biggest supplier and direct nexus in Ecuador. The vice minister of the Interior, Javier Cordova, said at the time that it was a blow to "the biggest drug trafficking gang in Ecuador." He operated together with Wilder Emilio Sánchez Farfán, accused of being responsible for the implementation of five drug laboratories, located and destroyed by the police between May 2010 and April 2012


Arrested in Operation Galaxy in 2013 when Telmo Castro was captured for the second time. Photo: Ministry of Interior

After his arrest in 2009, the police determined that in the warehouse in Quito where the drugs were stored, they found invoices from the Incolcarpas company, whose owner was Gilberto Londoño García, alias "Profe" or "Serpa". He was a key figure in the 'Comba' organization and in charge of the production and transport of cocaine shipments for the criminal gang 'Los Rastrojos' in southern Colombia and Ecuador. But none of this was mentioned in the trial following his capture in 2013.

That year, Castro and his men had been under investigation by agents for several months. On the day of the arrest, they were followed for 11 hours. Investigators observed Castro having several meetings. Three vehicles took the suspects to El Empalme during the afternoon of June 6. One of them entered a bank agency and then they had lunch. During the afternoon they entered the airstrip in the Campo Verde sector, located at kilometer 1.5 of the El Empalme-Pichincha road. But one of the vehicles went to a house in the sector. Later in the raid, two lemon grenades, six green rocket-missile propellant grenades, 17 yellow plastic tanks filled with fuel and six plastic tanks also containing fuel were found in the house.

This was the light aircraft seized by the anti-narcotics unit in El Empalme (Guayas) on June 6, 2013.

That day a van arrived at the runway with several plastic fuel tanks. After 6:00 p.m., a Cessna model 210 Centurion light aircraft arrived at the runway and parked next to the tanks. Two Mexican men got off the aircraft, which was refueled. After 19:00, according to the police report, Telmo Castro arrived in one of the vehicles, made contact with the Mexicans and left.

The agents then observed a truck heading towards the runway, but when they realized the police presence they got out of the vehicle and while running they shot at the agents and escaped. In the truck they found wooden crates and cartons with 450 brick-type packages containing 498 kilos of cocaine. Mexicans Miguel Angel Valdez Ruiz and Luis Joel Aguirre Castro, and a Colombian were arrested on the runway.

THE RUNWAY IS LOCATED 13 KM FROM THE ENTRANCE TO THE DAULE PERIPA DAM.PEDRO VELIZ WAS LOCATED IN THAT PLACE, ON A RUNWAY THAT SITS 2 KM AWAY FOR LANDING SMALL AIRCRAFT.  WHEN THE AGENTS CARRIED OUT THE OPERATION, THE RUNWAY WAS INSIDE AN AREA FENCED WITH BARBED WIRE AND REINFORCED CONCRETE ROADS.

The runway is located 13 km from the entrance to the Daule Peripa Dam. This is where Pedro Veliz left the 2 km runway for the landing of small aircrafts. When the agents carried out the operation, the runway was inside a property fenced with barbed wire and reinforced concrete streets, with a metal mesh gate surrounded by third order roads leading to different properties; at the side of the road and inside the property there was a house for the guards. According to the testimonies collected for the trial, the Army patrolled the track every day. It was 300 meters from a military compound.

A Garmin GPS and its respective batteries, a GPS adapter, a user's manual and a sheet of paper with handwritten coordinates were found in the plane. It had several modifications on the wings. For example, the drug traffickers had installed fuel tanks on each of them, which is not authorized by the manufacturer because it is a risk to their flight. But with these adaptations they were able to make the aircraft fly for up to seven hours approximately. The Attorney General's Office concluded that the drugs were going to be sent to Central America.

In his versions, Castro said that he was the victim of a kidnapping on March 10, 2013 in Quevedo by men dressed supposedly as the Judicial Police. According to Castro, the kidnapping lasted eleven days. His kidnappers asked him for US$300,000. He was released by the sector of El Empalme with a cell phone where they called him to ask for the money, according to his testimony. Then he went on June 6, 2013 to the sector of Pichincha (El Empalme) to deliver the sum. But his version was not credible. The Prosecutor's Office said that Castro was intercepted after he left the track and on the road towards El Empalme.

The former Army captain said he did not know the track and the Mexicans. His defense rejected that they call him as "head of the Sinaloa cartel in Ecuador". "Castro was not on the track, nor is he the owner of the drug, nor was he going to sell it, nor was he going to deliver it, nor distribute it, nor market it, nor export it (...) if Telmo Castro was in those surroundings it was to pay the money for the kidnapping, a fact that was proven by documents and testimony," said his lawyer.

But the police maintained that for the transportation of the illegal merchandise, the ringleaders used airplanes that took off from different points of the country. Therefore, they were able to establish the direct relationship between the accused and the four planes seized in the Centurion, Danubio Azul and Cristal operations.

On June 13, 2014, the Eighth Court of Criminal Guarantees of Guayas sentenced Castro to 10 years and 8 months in prison and a fine equivalent to eight thousand general minimum wages for being a repeated offender. Wilder Emilio Sánchez Farfán was sentenced to three years; and the remaining six defendants to one year and six months in prison.

The defendants and the Prosecutor's Office appealed the sentence. On December 16, 2014, the Specialized Criminal Chamber of the Provincial Court of Justice of Guayas dismissed the appeal for annulment requested by the defendants, while it accepted the appeal filed by the Prosecutor's Office. It convicted Telmo Remigio Castro, Miguel Angel Valdez and Luis Joel Aguirre as perpetrators of the crime of drug trafficking. It imposed a modified sentence of thirteen years in prison. Wilder Emilio Sánchez Farfán and four defendants accused of being accomplices were sentenced to four years. Castro, Valdez and Aguirre took the case to the National Court. In that instance, their appeal was denied and their 13-year sentence was ratified.

Two crosses linked him to a new process (2017)

El On December 15, 2017, 'El Capi' received his second conviction this time for money laundering. To argue the crime, the Prosecutor's Office went back to the crash of a Cessna light aircraft in Pedernales, Manabí, on May 13, 2012. The two Mexicans who were flying it died. Two suitcases containing US$1.3 million were found in the aircraft.

In the plane, seized in El Empalme, a case for which Castro was arrested in 2013, two metal crosses were found with the names of the deceased Mexicans printed on them. The crosses were 1.6 meters high and the plaques had the dates of birth and death of the pilots. This evidence led to a new trial against the ex-military officer.

'EL CAPI' HAD SET UP TWO COMPANIES WITH HIS RELATIVES AND CLOSE ASSOCIATES: CONSBIEN S.A. AND ADERUM S.A., WHICH WERE ONLY FRONT COMPANIES.

With this background, the Attorney General's Office asked the Financial Analysis Unit to investigate Castro's accounts, as it suspected that the money from the plane crash was destined for Castro. Thus, it was determined that 'El Capi' had constituted two companies with his relatives and close friends: CONSBIEN S.A. and ADERUM S.A. They were front companies. In the current account of CONSBIEN S.A. there were unusual and unjustified deposits amounting to 1.1 million dollars, said the Attorney General's Office. Castro and his partner were prosecuted, but he was dismissed in December 2016.

In his version, Castro said he felt surprised by the accusation. "That account had been managed some years ago. I want to emphasize, at no time was the one million two hundred in its entirety, that is a sum from 2005 to 2015, it is a sum that has been growing, logically if we had a company it must be growing, these are sums that have entered, in spite of that we have accepted the error, before which I apologize to the State", he said.

But he was sentenced to five years in prison and to pay 2.3 million dollars, double the amount that, according to the Prosecutor's Office, the ex-military officer could not justify.

UPDATE:

Telmo Castro was murdered in the Guayaquil Prison with fifteen stab wounds on December 3, 2019. One of the prisoners claimed responsibility for the crime. He was found stabbed in his cell, bound hand and foot. He had returned to prison in 2018.

 

Translated by Manuel Novik

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