Joaquín Franco, the now acquitted captain of the Guardia Civil, in a file photo.Marcos Moreno
The Provincial Court of Cadiz has acquitted the captain of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Civil Guard of Algeciras, Joaquín Franco, due to lack of evidence. The Algeciras Division of the Provincial Court of Cadiz has not considered it sufficiently proven that Franco committed an ongoing crime in which he disclosed secrets to benefit a sergeant of the Civil Guard who ended up in prison for involvement in drug money laundering, and also not to thwart the arrest of Abdellah el Hak Sadek El Membri, alias the Messi of hashish, in March 2019. The court recognizes that “uncertainties and doubts remain”, but that these uncertainties are at his disposal due to the in dubio pro reo , a legal principle that prescribes that in case of doubt, action is taken in favor of the accused.
Franco was finally arrested in July 2019 following an internal investigation by the Guardia Civil. Initially, he was accused of alleged crimes of divulging secrets, failure to prosecute, allegations and belonging to a criminal organization, although in the trial that took place on September 14 and 15 at the headquarters of the Provincial Court in Algeciras, only the first charges were brought of the crimes investigated. The captain had been out on bail since February 2020. At this point, the then head of the Investigative Court No. 4 of Algeciras temporarily released him after the proceedings were completed.
The Gordian knot of the case that led to the downfall of Captain Franco after he spent two decades fighting drug trafficking in the Strait centered on his alleged friendships with Corporal Miguel Ángel M. – in prison for drug trafficking money laundering -, with Messi’s lawyer and with the drug trafficker himself. The Campo de Gibraltar public prosecutor’s office claimed that these entanglements led him to inform the three of the measures taken against them by the Guardia Civil, to the extent of an arrest of the hashish boss was foiled in March 2019. Abdellah el Hak Sadek El Membri – currently a fugitive from justice – had been out on bail since November 2017 after surrendering in a then-controversial agreement with the public prosecutor’s office, which was negotiated by Captain Franco himself.
“The prosecutor’s accusatory approach is based on the fact that it was the defendant who disclosed the data,” recalls the court in judgment 194/2023, to which EL PAÍS had access and which is still being appealed to the Supreme Court judge of Andalusia. This theory was supported by a majority of the 14 agents who appeared as witnesses in the trial. So much so that some of them spoke of a list of defendants in an investigation in which the name of the imprisoned sergeant who was apparently in Franco’s office was underlined, but which allegedly ended up on El’s cell phone in the form of a photo .Messi. Among the agents who testified was one of the defendant’s superiors, who stated that he “did not like the defendant’s behavior and his relationships.” He also assured that Franco “stopped” him about the situation of the investigation that he had to carry out against Corporal Miguel Ángel and which was eventually taken over by OCON Sur, the body created to combat drug trafficking in the Guardia Civil, already dismantled.
However, the prosecutor’s accusation has collapsed like a house of cards in the face of what the Cadiz court in Algeciras considers to be “individual evidence.” The court did not consider it proven that he was the one who informed Corporal Miguel Ángel, who admitted in his testimony before the trial that he knew that Ocon was being investigated by Messi himself for hashish and not for a direct connection to Franco. Nor was he burdened by the 25,000 euros in cash found in his then-girlfriend’s house, which both she and her lawyer declared to be their property during the trial. “The analysis and study of the impact and the documents intervened in the case have not been able to draw any conclusions that would allow the defendant to be linked to the facts alleged against him,” says the judgment, in which the judges assure that “the research has also been carried out not carried out, no information could be obtained in this regard.”
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Given the lack of conclusive evidence, the Cadiz court considers that the evidence is not sufficiently consistent to accuse Franco of drug trafficking. However, the three speakers of the judgment confirm that there are unresolved uncertainties: “There is no reasonable criterion for this prevailing presumption, which necessarily and in all cases points to the defendant, although his relationships with the specified investigators and certain conduct in connection with them These investigations (…) are in some cases suspicious and have not been clearly explained. It is precisely these uncertainties, full of chiaroscuro, that led the court to acquittal by applying the principle in dubio pro reo.
Captain Franco’s arrest is not the only one that has sparked social concern, at a time when the Interior Ministry’s police siege against drug trafficking was much more visible than it is now in Campo de Gibraltar. In the successive investigations, a municipal secretary, civil guards and police officers from Algeciras or La Línea de la Concepción came into conflict. He is also not the first to end in an acquittal. The three police officers accused of collaborating with the Castaña clan – two nationals and one local – were also exonerated last May in a verdict that sentenced only Isco Tejón to just three years and one month in prison. Now it remains to be seen whether Franco will follow their path and also request reinstatement to his position in the Guardia Civil.
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