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The Cost of Exposing Corruption: Mauricio Weibel’s Struggle Against Military Espionage and Disinformation Campaigns

The Cost of Exposing Corruption: Mauricio Weibel’s Struggle Against Military Espionage and Disinformation Campaigns

Mauricio Weibel Barahona, is a distinguished Chilean investigative journalist specialising in military corruption and human rights. His in-depth investigations have exposed significant corruption within the Chilean military, leading to both monumental recoveries for the Chilean treasury and severe personal repercussions. His work had significant national impacts, including the recovery of approximately USD 4.5 billion for the treasury and the prosecution of 850 military personnel, including the last five military commanders.

Weibel became the target of illegal military surveillance on various occasions after exposing corruption within the army in 2016. Since 2021, he has been fighting for accountability in the Chilean court system, despite significant due process violations involving judges and military.

Yet now, pressures against him have taken a new form. Disinformation aimed at criminalising Weibel’s investigative work is proliferating online, threatening to derail his legal battle against impunity and silence his reporting.

Illegal military surveillance of an investigative journalist

Mauricio Weibel, a contributor at the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIPER ) and author of several books on military dictatorship and corruption, uncovered massive fraud in military weapon purchases and embezzlement of millions from the defence budget between 2015 and 2019.

Following his revelations, Weibel became aware that he was being watched by the military and received confirmation about this from anonymous sources. In August 2019, the news website La Tercera published an article revealing that Weibel had been illegally spied on, wiretapped, and recorded by the Chilean Army Intelligence Directorate under an operation named “Operation W,” derived from the journalist’s surname. In response, Weibel launched his own investigation into the operation. With the help of anonymous sources, he identified the military and civilian participants and even recorded the agents who followed him. All this information was handed over to the justice system.

Risk of impunity

In 2021, Weibel filed a criminal complaint for the malicious interception of his telecommunications. The complaint argued that the Chilean military, in collusion with judicial officials, carried out an illegal spying operation against him.

This led to high-profile investigations and lawsuits against key figures in the military and judiciary, including former judge Juan Antonio Poblete Méndez. Poblete, who had authorised the illegal wiretapping, was initially sentenced to pre-trial detention as his release was deemed ‘a danger to the security of society’.

However, the Supreme Court subsequently ordered Poblete’s immediate release. Recent developments revealed severe inadequacies in the Chilean justice system. Evidence extracted from devices seized during the investigation revealed that Poblete had lobbied to appoint María Teresa Letelier to the Supreme Court. Letelier, then a Supreme Court justice,subsequently voted for Poblete’s release, indicating a conflict of interest and lack of judicial independence. This situation underscores the potential risks to justice and accountability in Weibel’s case.

The case is ongoing. On 28 November 2023, the Supreme Court of Chile held that the prosecution and detention of Poblete were justified because of grave indications that he had authorised the wiretapping of Weibel and other alleged victims. As of June 2024, the case remains in the pre-trial stage and former judge Poblete remains in preventative detention.

Online harassment

Media Defence is concerned about online discourses attempting to criminalise Mauricio Weibel’s legitimate investigative work on military corruption in Chile. We call on the Chilean authorities to ensure a fair trial for Weibel and uphold the right to freedom of expression.

The pursuit of justice in Mauricio Weibel’s case is crucial for the integrity of Chile’s democratic institutions and freedom of expression.

If you are a journalist facing legal threats for your work, apply for help here

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