Mayo 13, 1999
Case: Ricardo Gangeme
Tasting of Nothing:
September 1, 2002
To put it briefly, no one planned or committed the crime. To put it briefly, no one shot him at close range as he parked his car outside his home. To put it briefly, no one intended to do away with him. To put it briefly, no one murdered Ricardo Gangeme, owner and editor of the weekly El Informador Chubutense in Trelew, Argentina.
He is dead since the early hours of May 13, 1999, in short, thanks to the action of no one, just destiny ¬ his destiny, beyond the feelings he has left as his legacy in practicing his profession and, in some way, the indifference that the case itself might have engendered among the Buenos Aires news media, with certain exceptions such as the daily newspapers Ambito Financiero and Crónica, because of the friendship he had with their editors, Julio Ramos and Héctor Ricardo García, respectively.
Three years and four months after the murder, the First Criminal Court of Northeast Chubut province on September 12, 2002, acquitted the three defendants in the murder ¬– Daniel Vitti (the alleged instigator), Gustavo Fabián Smith (alleged to have carried out the killing) and Alejandro Zabala (alleged accomplice). To put it briefly, then, the bullet lodged in Gangeme’s skull having entered through the left eye, subjected to forensic examination by the provincial police, the National Gendarmarie and the Federal Police did not match the Smith & Wesson 38-caliber revolver seized from one of the suspects.
This was the grounds for the unanimous acquittal by Judges Juan Angel Di Nardo, Roberto Rubén Portela and Daniel Rebagliati Russell. “Due to the fact that the case rests fundamentally on the weapon taken from Zabala, it has necessarily to lead to the acquittal of those brought to trial,” they ruled, thus closing a perverse circle in which there was therefore a victim and no culprits, making impunity a key element of the whole process.
It has been a process marked, or complicated, from the outset by contradictory testimony from witnesses, fingerprints found in the car that did not match the fingerprints of the three accused (freed, under terms of the American Convention on Human Rights, after being held without trial for two years) and a bullet ¬ a curious bullet, in fact: it was deformed from the moment in became encrusted in Gangeme’s skull, rendering it useless for any forensic examination, according to legal sources.
The bullet in question is believed to have been manipulated, according Trelew newspaper Jornada. “One of the forensic experts is understood to have said that on carrying out a chemical test on bullet it was noted that part of it had been scratched and hammered,” the paper said. It had, it would seem, one part unscathed, but the rifling, a report said, could not be matched to the seized weapon.
Gangeme had gone to live in Patagonia in southern Argentina after working for almost all his life in Buenos Aires. In Trelew, he worked as editor of Jornada, owned by Carlos Spadone, at the time linked in business with Argentine President Carlos Menem. Jornada was a competitor of the daily El Chubut, whose owner was José María Sáez. He later founded El Informador Chubutense, which, as Ambito Financiero put it, had an aggressive style which made it a lot of enemies.
The trial resulting form his death, scheduled originally for August 27, had to be postponed for two days when Trelew Public Defender Rodolfo Mariano Miquelarena charged that there was a plot by government officials and police against the accused.
Was the outcome to be taken for granted, as Gangeme’s only son, Pablo, believes? Neither he nor his lawyer, Alejandro Vecchi, accepted the verdict, which when confirmed they plan to appeal to the Chubut Supreme Court and if that does not work, to the Argentine Supreme Court and to international organizations.
“Now we can act as plaintiffs and request a new trial,” said Pablo, 27. “A lawyer in Trelew is giving us a hand, but he has been told he will get no cooperation whatsoever. They rejected our first submission out of hand. And no one is doing anything. Why are the witnesses not being charged with perjury if, as has been proved, their testimony has been contradictory? I am scared to live in this country, I confess ¬ for me, my girl-friend, everyone.”
When Investigating Magistrate Florencio Minatta sent the case to the Criminal Court, Public Prosecutor Ricardo Vázquez Pellegrini called for the defendants to be sentenced to life in prison, the maximum under the Argentine Penal Code. But it did not prosper. Neither did the plea by Pablo Gangeme for Héctor Fernándes, a builder linked to Spadone in real estate business and in news media operations who had threatened his father, be called to testify.
While being held at the Rawson police precinct, Vitti told the Télam news agency, “The strange thing about all this is that Fernandes was never called to testify in this case,” he said. “He is involved because of the threat and what another witness (a reference to Light and Power Union leader Héctor González) has indicated. That is why I am being held in custody. But the strangest thing of all is that neither the judge nor the public prosecutor never called him to ask him if he knew me or if I had ever asked him for money to kill the journalist. In González’s deposition there is more than that, because he said that at one time Fernandes called him to ask him to find people to kill the editor of El Chubut and besides that Fernándes told him that Gangeme would take care of him.” The motive for the crime, beyond the allegations of corruption in provincial politics that Gangeme often published in his newspaper, has never been fully established. It was for personal reasons; say some, for professional reasons, say others. To put it briefly, for some reason a man approached him and, as he wound down his car’s window, shot at him with intent to kill, failing to take off with the $1,500 in cash and bank checks that were later found in the car.
That night, at 1:28 a.m., the police officer that used to patrol the corner of the building where Gangeme rented an apartment was not there. Among the initial accusations was that Smith was the one who did the shooting, Vitti was the one who organized the crime (under the orders of a supposed mastermind) and Zabala was the one who provided the weapon. All of them had a connection with the Electric Cooperative about which Gangeme wrote often in the newspaper concerning apparently less than clean business with the provincial government.
Also freed for lack of evidence against them were Alejandro Jara, Néstor Fabián Echaúri and Daniel Eduardo Soto, initially accused of being accomplices, having tailed Gangeme in the days prior to his murder ¬ – the crime that it would seem no one planned or committed. No one is guilty, to put it briefly.