Unholy orders

Murder, corruption - the story of the radio station run by a Catholic priest in Costa Rica

In a court case that has exposed corruption within the Catholic Church in Costa Rica, a panel of judges last month condemned three men to a total of 97 years imprisonment for the parts they played in events that led to the murder of a popular radio journalist.

Parmenio Medina Pérez, a Colombian, was gunned down outside his home in 2001 after broadcasting a series of reports about alleged embezzlement at Radio María, run by Father Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar.

Calvo, alongside businessman Omar Chaves, had been accused of ordering Medina's killing. The priest, who had spent four years in prison on remand, was acquitted of participation in the murder but sentenced to 15 years for fraud. The judges ruled that he had been involved in swindling cash donated by Radio María listeners for good causes.

His business partner, Chaves, was found guilty of ordering the shooting and sentenced to 35 years, plus 12 years for fraud. Prosecutors said the partners planned Medina's assassination in a bid to silence him. In their verdict, the judges said that from 1999-2001 the radio station received nearly $3m (£1.5m) in donations, most of which Calvo and Chaves used to pay for luxuries that included cruises to the Bahamas and Florida.

Medina had regularly mentioned the radio station and Calvo during his own daily show, La Patada ("The Kick"). Costa Rica's Catholic Church closed down Radio María a couple of months before the murder.

The judgment led to vociferous outbursts in the public galleries. Calvo's brother Alejandro called the sentence handed down to his sibling an "injustice" and expressed his intention to take the case to a higher, international court. But Medina's family said it was disappointed with Calvo's acquittal on the murder charge.

The trial lasted for more than two years, supposedly the longest in the history of the Costa Rican judicial system.

The case has been dogged by controversy since the journalist was shot three times outside his house on 7 July 2001.

In 2003, Amnesty International claimed the investigation into the crime was weak and could jeopardise any subsequent proceedings. Nine people stood trial. Six were found not guilty.

Luis Alberto Aguirre Jaime, a Nicaraguan known as El Indio, was the third individual convicted. He was sentenced to 35 years in jail for participating in the actual murder. However, the judges said others who took part in the shooting remained at large, among them the person who pulled the trigger.

The country's chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese, who had been present at the arrest of Calvo, refused to condemn the verdict of the court. He said his office would await a copy of the judges' official verdict before deciding whether to appeal or not. Calvo's lawyer, Rodrigo Araya, indicated that his client would appeal against his conviction for fraud.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked