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NICARAGUA
Case against Ortega dismissed
LADB
2/18/2002
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A Nicaraguan judge has dismissed rape charges filed against Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) leader and former President Daniel Ortega (1979-90) by his stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo, who claimed in 1998 that Ortega had begun sexually abusing her when she was 11.

Ortega has repeatedly denied the charges, saying they are political and citing the use of the scandal by then-President Arnoldo Alemán (1996-2001) during the recent presidential election campaign (LP, Nov. 19, 2001). The National Assembly, where he is now an FSLN legislator, never voted to lift his immunity from prosecution.

In a surprise move on Dec. 12, however, Ortega surrendered his immunity. He also asked Judge Juana Méndez to dismiss the charges on grounds that the alleged crime occurred 19 years earlier and the statute of limitations had expired.

On Dec. 19, Judge Juana Méndez ruled in Ortega’s favor, saying the court could not consider the charges because of the lack of evidence and the time factor. Narváez has appealed, and the case could eventually end up in the Supreme Court.

Narváez had unsuccessfully sought to have Méndez removed from the case on the grounds that she was an FSLN member and had violated various legal proceedings in her handling of the case.

According to Ortega, since Narváez first made the accusations, he and Rosario Murillo, Narváez’s mother, had tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter through private talks with Narváez. Narváez, however, has maintained that rape is a public crime and called on her family to face the issue publicly, "no matter how painful it may be."

At a mid-December news conference, Murillo offered intimate details about her daughter’s life, saying Narváez had an obsession for power and suggesting that she was infatuated with Ortega and driven to compete with her mother for his attention.

A separate case, in which Narváez charged that the Alemán administration denied her access to the judiciary system, has reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which gave the government until Dec. 18 to respond to the charges. The Alemán administration made no public statement.


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