Martín Mestre, 79, has the early morning of January 1, 1994 engraved in his memory: “I have everything fresh in my head, I press a button and reprogram the chip.”
“Can you dial that button?”
The last time Mestre saw Jaime Saade was at the door of his house after toasting with his wife and two children. Nancy Mariana, 18, had asked her permission to celebrate the new year with Jaime, who she had been dating for a while. Mestre came out to see them off.
“Come back at three,” he reminded her.
“Take care of her,” she asked him.
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At six o’clock he awoke with a start. He was surprised that the staircase light was still on and he ran to his daughter’s room. Was not.
He took to the streets on the most festive night of the year. She toured several discos in the city of Barranquilla (Colombia) and promised God that if he found her in one, he would not scold her. Did not see her. He drove to the Saade family home.
Jaime’s mother was cleaning her son’s apartment, attached to their house. At dawn on the first day of the year. The ground was all wet. The woman looked at him and said:
—Your daughter has had an accident, she’s at the Caribbean Clinic.
Mestre went to the hospital. At the entrance he met Jaime’s father, whom he knew by sight.
—Martín, your daughter has tried to commit suicide.
The next eight days were spent in the clinic. A bullet had gone through Nancy’s head, and she never regained consciousness. On January 9, they were warned that he was going to die. “We went in and we sang songs from when she was little: Cute daddy babe”Martín hums today. Until the heart “stopped drawing lines on the machine and the whistle sounded.”
That sound marked the beginning of a nearly three-decade search for a broken father. Mestre behind Saade’s footsteps, who had been swallowed up by the earth since the night of the events. “Since that day I live depending on whether they capture him. It is not an obsession, it is a duty as a parent ”.
In 1996, a Colombian judge sentenced Saade for the murder and rape of Nancy Mariana to 27 years in prison, despite being missing. Suicide was ruled out. Jaime sexually abused her and shot her dead in her home. Mestre maintains that there was someone else at the crime scene. Investigators found a blood type in Jaime’s room that doesn’t match his or Nancy’s, but if more people were involved, only Saade knows. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against him.
Mestre knew that the chances of it turning up were remote and decided never to let the case fall asleep. As a member of the army in the reserve, he took an intelligence course. His only option was to get closer to the family, which he never did like Martín Mestre, despite continuing to live in the same city. He reached out to them through social media with four fictitious profiles that he created. Two men and two women with Arab surnames and from the Aracataca region, the Saade’s place of origin, with whom he gained their trust. For 26 years the operation did not yield any results.
“In court they were very jealous that the arrest warrant remained in force. I went very often. I always thought that they would say ‘the old tired man is coming’, but no, they collaborated with me a lot, they sympathized with a father who suffered the death of his daughter and wanted justice to be done, ”he says in a virtual conversation from Barranquilla. Time was running against him. In July 2023 the sentence against Saade will be served and, if he is not located, he will be released and without charges.
At the end of 2019, keywords began to appear in chats with people around the Saade. “Samaria” was the key. Mestre and two colonels who were working on the investigation linked him to Santa Marta (a Colombian coastal city) and pulling several strings and conversations, the name of a tourist complex called Belo Horizonte jumped. What if he had hidden in that city in Brazil?
Interpol found a man there who responded to the profile. He called himself Henrique Dos Santos Abdala. He was married and had two children. Brazilian police tracked him down. A glass from which he drank in a bar served to check the prints. It was Saade. 26 years later. “I was in my office and from the emotion I began to cry. I got down on my knees and thanked God, ”Mestre recalls about the moment he learned the news of his arrest, at the end of January 2020. Extradition to Colombia seemed only a matter of time.
The case reached the Supreme Court of Justice of Brazil. Mestre was euphoric, convinced that nothing could fail and that in a matter of months the inmate would be serving a sentence in a Colombian jail. In all these years he combined his work as an architect with incessant search. He separated from Nancy’s mother, who lives in Spain, and remarried. He never moved from Barranquilla. His other son, four years older than his daughter will always be, now lives in the United States and has given him a granddaughter. The three of them, mother, father and son, often speak to each other to tell each other the news of the case. They did it to cry, like so many other times, when they learned of the Court’s decision: tie.
Two judges voted in favor of extradition and two against. The fifth was on leave and justice dictates that ties always favor the convicted person. “They sought the fate of my daughter’s murderer as if it were a soccer game. I cried a lot, I have cried a lot for this case, but I have not had time to mourn, always investigating, but I do not get tired, I will never faint ”. Mestre did not give up and since then only looks for a way to reverse the decision. The option that Saade never return to Colombia is not in his head: “We are going to bring him and he is going to start paying.”
“It’s not easy,” explains lawyer Bruno Barreto, who advises the family in Brazil and seeks legal instruments to be able to repeat the vote. Barreto defends that the Supreme Court was wrong in at least two points. The first is a procedural issue: “He decided with a tie, but an extradition process is not a criminal trial, it is a measure of international legal cooperation. They should have waited for the return of Celso de Mello [el quinto juez] to finalize the trial ”, he argues.
The second point is related to the two votes against. Brazilian law establishes that an extradition is only possible when the crime has not prescribed in Brazil or in the country where the sentence was passed. In Colombia the statute of limitations for the case is scheduled for mid-2023, with the expiration of the sentence, but in Brazil, where the statute of limitations is 20 years, the sentence was no longer valid in 2020. However, Brazilian law also it contemplates that if the accused commits another crime, it is considered that there was a repeat offense and the time for the prescription is restarted. Jaime Saade is also accused of forgery and use of illegal documents to enter the country with a false identity, although the case has not yet been tried.
The two judges who cast the votes in favor argued that the new accusation should be considered to calculate the statute of limitations, the others rejected it because there was still no conviction. The Brazilian Penal Code opens space for different interpretations because it provides for both possibilities. However, the interpretation of Ministers Edson Fachin and Ricardo Lewandowski [que votaron en contra] it ignores the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court itself and of the experts in criminal law in Brazil ”, argues Barreto.
EL PAÍS has tried unsuccessfully to contact Saade, who is “not interested” in talking about his case, explains his lawyer, Fernando Gomes Oliveira. His parents died and his brothers published a letter shortly after his arrest defending the condemned man. The lawyer did agree to speak. He assures that his client “is fine”, living in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), where he is a businessman, “moving on with his life.” He is awaiting trial for having entered Brazil with illegal documentation, but he is not afraid of a harsh sentence in jail. “At most the payment of a fine,” explains Oliveira. Married with two Brazilian children, he has the support of all his relatives, both in Brazil and in Colombia. Oliveira refers to what happened in Colombia as “a tragedy” in the life of his client.
His version of events is very different from what the investigations say. In a letter written when he was in a Brazilian jail last year, while the Supreme Court was deciding on the extradition, the Colombian insisted that Mestre committed suicide. “I went to the bathroom and after a few minutes I heard a gunshot. I went out immediately and saw her on the ground, with a lot of blood and a revolver at her side, ”she says in the letter. Although they found gunpowder in Nancy’s left hand, which Saade clings to, the suicide hypothesis was ruled out. “The investigation has grotesque inaccuracies,” Oliveira refutes. If the intention was to kill her, he continues, “he would not have taken his partner to the hospital.” The lawyer regrets that his client did not have the opportunity to defend himself. He didn’t have it because he disappeared that night.
The sentence refutes his version. Nancy did not commit suicide. The gunpowder was found in the hand opposite the temple where the bullet entered, which would have forced her to make an unlikely movement to kill herself. However, she was raped, she had blows on her arms, on her thighs, on the vaginal area and traces of skin on her nails, a sign of having tried to defend herself. From Saade’s home, she was transported to the clinic in a family van, naked and wrapped in a sheet. Then Jaime fled.
The lawyer for the convicted person assures that “there is no longer any possibility that he will be extradited, or even expelled or deported by the authorities.” That Jaime will be able to continue living in peace, at 58, like Henrique in Belo Horizonte. The Colombian government itself sees it as difficult. “The current extradition treaty between Colombia and Brazil provides that once the extradition of an individual is denied, the surrender of the individual may not be requested again for the same fact that he was charged with,” the Foreign Ministry told the Barranquilla newspaper. The Herald in March of this year.
Mestre does not conceive it. He doesn’t even think about it. The international law firm Quinn Emanuel Sullivan & Urquhart LLP, from its Washington office, leads the efforts together with the Brazilian family lawyers to continue searching for instruments and ensure that justice arrives before the end of the sentence. When the ruling was known, the father wrote a letter to the members of the Supreme Court that he disseminated among the local media with the title A Colombian murderer is on the loose in Brazil, but has not received a response
“And if he succeeds in the end, what would he do?”
“Find a way to make him talk.” I just want to know why. I walked out the door and told him take care of her. Look how I took care of her.