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Complaint against newspaper withdrawn

(PFC/IFEX) - On 2 April 2004, lawyers for the Canadian firm CINTEC withdrew a criminal complaint for defamation that had been filed against Enrique Altamirano, the director and owner of "El Diario de Hoy" newspaper, and two of the newspaper's editors, Laffite Fernández and Álvaro Cruz. CINTEC's lawyers did not provide an explanation for the withdrawal of the complaint.

The complaint was filed before a San Salvador court on 15 December 2003. The plaintiffs had demanded US$6 million for damages suffered by CINTEC directors Antonio Cinquino and Matteo Pasquale. CINTEC had also demanded that the three accused individuals be held in custody while the case was before the courts and that they be prohibited from carrying out their professional activities.

In December 1997, ten municipalities in the San Salvador metropolitan area awarded CINTEC a contract for the construction and operation of a garbage treatment plant. In February 2003, "El Diario de Hoy", and to a lesser extent "La Prensa Gráfica" newspaper, published a series of reports alleging that the CINTEC directors were involved in criminal activities. "El Diario de Hoy" reported that in 1992 Cinquino was sent to jail for 33 months on drug-related charges. The newspaper also linked Cinquino's brother to drug trafficking. Other reports alleged that some CINTEC directors and shareholders were linked to an Italian-Canadian mafia ring and were involved in money laundering.

On two separate occasions in 2003, Probidad, the organisation that administers PFC, condemned the criminal complaint filed against "El Diario de Hoy". In a December 2003 letter to Human Rights Prosecutor Beatrice Alamani de Carrillo, the organisation noted that in El Salvador slander and libel are dealt with under the Criminal Code and carry heavy penalties, including jail terms and fines.

According to Fernández, the withdrawal of the complaint demonstrates the validity of "El Diario de Hoy"'s information. "Everything we reported about [the company] is the truth," he said in a note published in the daily on 3 April 2004.

However, after analysing the newspaper's reports, Probidad has a different opinion. While the organisation objected to the criminal action launched against "El Diario de Hoy", it nevertheless is concerned that some of the newspaper's reports were not properly verified and that there were inconsistencies in the information presented. As a result, some of the newspaper's conclusions are questionable. In addition, Probidad informed the Human Rights Prosecutor's Office that "El Diario de Hoy" had violated the right to reply of CINTEC and other individuals who the newspaper alleged were involved in illicit activates.

In December 2003, Probidad urged the Human Rights Prosecutor's Office to ensure that legislation on the right to reply is adopted and that media outlets are encouraged to adopt mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the information they distribute. The organisation is still awaiting action on these two fronts.

Investigations are ongoing into complaints against CINTEC, some of which were voiced by "El Diario de Hoy". The company and the San Salvador municipalities are accused of restricting access to information regarding their activities and financial reports.

For further information on the case, see:
www.probidad-sv.org/index.php?seccion=libexp/casos/2003/002.html

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