Developments over the past six months have revealed once again the influence of political figures on the justice system. This influence comes at the expense of the news media, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Also, there were numerous cases in which government officials took unjustifiable measures against the press in response to published reports on acts of corruption. Despite strong evidence of such acts, the officials considered these reports to be political or personal attacks, and in some instances pressed criminal charges to intimidate and silence the news outlets. Actions against journalists went so far as to include physical assaults and the kidnapping of one reporter's son. This period was also saw accusations of corruption among journalists themselves, although these accusations did not diminish the great importance of the press as a whole. Meanwhile, the daily Noticias de Asunción closed its doors due to financial difficulties, according to the newspaper's management. On November 5, the National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) ordered the seizure of equipment from 12 radio stations that were operating illegally and interfering with the broadcasts of legally operating radio stations, according to CONATEL director Luis Reinoso. Reinoso explained that these stations, known as ?community radio stations,? were also running commercial advertising even though the law forbids them from doing so. This practice constituted unfair competition with those stations that operate legally. On November 10, Rubén Careaga, a member of the influential Careaga family that provides services in the triangulation of imported goods. a form of contraband, in Ciudad del Este, 330 kilometers east of Asunción, filed a lawsuit against Héctor Guerín, a reporter for the Asunción daily ABC Color and editor of the local newspaper Vanguardia . Careaga is also seeking $5 million in damages against Guerín for alleged character assassination. Guerín had written extensive articles about Transportadora Guaraní, a company owned by the Careaga family, in which he reported that this company was providing goods to numerous businesses in Ciudad del Este through a tax evasion and smuggling scheme, with the alleged complicity of a member of the politically powerful Argaña family. The case is currently pending before the courts. On November 22, four unidentified individuals kidnapped Mauricio Agustti and held him for about three hours. Mauricio is the young son of Bernardo Agustti, a reporter for the newspaper Última Hora who has been writing investigative stories on cases involving corruption, drug trafficking, and other crimes. Mauricio was leaving school when he was forced into a vehicle by the kidnappers. After his release, Mauricio stated that his captors had told him, ?Tell your dad to stop writing stuff about drugs and car theft, or else something worse will happen to you all.? On November 24, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) sent a letter to then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Víctor Núñez to express its concern over a libel case against ABC Color editor Aldo Zuccolillo. This lawsuit was brought by Juan Carlos Galaverna, an influential legislator of the ruling Colorado Party, who is often mentioned for his alleged involvement in acts of corruption, illicit enrichment, and influence peddling. This lawsuit was filed by Galaverna in response to reports in ABC Color accusing him of protecting those who embezzled funds from the since-failed state-owned Banco Nacional de Trabajadores, including Edgar Cataldi, the former bank president. Cataldi, who is also Galaverna's close friend, has been sentenced to ten years in prison but is currently on the run. Zuccolillo was sentenced to pay a fine of 500 million guaranis (about $100,000), and this sentence was upheld on appeal. Both the trial and appeals courts failed to uphold the freedoms of information, speech, and the press, which are guaranteed by the Paraguayan Constitution. The courts also ignored the fact that the articles only referred to Galaverna in terms of his role as a public figure. The case is currently before the Supreme Court, where most of the justices were recently reappointed to new terms. However, the tenure of one justice, Wildo Renzi, remains in question. Galaverna has frequently declared himself to be Renzi's good friend and publicly defended him when his removal from the Court was being considered. Rienzi did not recuse himself from the case. On December 13 the results of a survey of journalists were released. This survey was conducted by the International Press Center at Florida International University, through the Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminology and Social Sciences (INECIP). The survey found that 66 percent of journalists believe that the Paraguayan press has no ethical standards, and the same percentage said they know journalists who receive bribes. Forty-seven percent believe that corruption in the media is widespread, and 75 percent cited low pay as one of the main reasons why many journalists commit acts of corruption. After corruption, the journalists cited the following concerns: lack of training and professionalization (39 percent), lack of independence in newsrooms (27 percent), and personal safety (19 percent). On December 13, the Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP) issued a statement rejecting the accusation made by Senator Alfredo Jaeggli, of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party, against Luis Bareiro, a reporter for the newspaper ABC Color . Jaeggli charged that Bareiro took bribes to write a series of articles about a controversial land expropriation for peasants. On January 13, journalist Gustavo Torres of the newspaper Vanguardia in Ciudad del Este stated that three men had assaulted him and threatened his life for articles he had written on police actions against drug traffickers in that city. On January 19, prosecutors in Ciudad del Este opened an investigation into a complaint filed by lawyer Enrique Alberto Velaztiquí against ABC Color correspondent Héctor Guerín. The report was based on stories published in La Primicia , a local weekly newspaper owned by Chinese national Wu Wen Huang, who is currently serving a prison sentence for aggravated extortion. The complaint accused Guerín and his wife of weapons trafficking, extortion, money laundering, blackmail, unlawful imprisonment, smuggling, and kidnapping. Guerín said the court action was an attempt to intimidate him in response to his articles charging prosecutors with professional misconduct and named other individuals allegedly involved in crimes such as bootlegging, smuggling, and tax evasion. This case is still pending before the courts. In early February, a website called ?Democráticamente? (Democratically), which has a radio version on the Radio Itapirú station in Ciudad del Este, reported an alleged plan to assassinate Guerín. According to this report, four Brazilian hitmen were hired by prosecutors from the area to carry out the killing, but the conspiracy never came to fruition because the hitmen went to the wrong location. The alleged plan was reported to the authorities by a recently released convict who claimed he was part of the group. Kassen Mohamad Hijazi, a Lebanese merchant in Ciudad del Este, filed a lawsuit for alleged extortion against journalist Héctor Guerín. Hijazi, whose name frequently shows up in reports on alleged money laundering and tax evasion, claimed that Guerín asked him to pay $50,000 to keep reports of his activities out of the press. Hijazi also claimed that Guerín tried to force him to make statements implicating two prosecutors from the area. On Feburary 12, the daily newspaper Noticias closed its doors due to financial problems after 20 years and seven months of operation, said editor Eduardo Bo. The closure left 240 people jobless. The newspaper had requested voluntary retirement from 74 employees in order to avoid shutting down. This request was turned down, and negotiations between workers and the company were unsuccessful, leading to the newspaper's closure. In an interview published that same day in the newspaper La Nación , Bo charged the Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP) with intransigence in seeking a negotiated solution. He also said that compliance with the labor contract then in effect was impossible. He also accused the Paraguayan Central Bank of failing to return his deposits in two commercial banks that subsequently failed. One deposit was for $3 million, and the other was worth ?even more.? On Febrary 12, Julio Colmán, a legislator from the ruling Colorado Party, described the press as ?decrepit? in response to alleged falsehoods written by the ABC Color correspondent in the town of Curuguaty, 500 kilometers northwest of Asunción. Colmán is a controversial figure who found himself at the center of a recent scandal for trying to force a prosecutor for environmental cases to release a load of lumber seized on the grounds that it was being illegally transported. The lumber belonged to an individual close to Colmán. On February 14, the minister of justice and labor, Juan Darío Monges, used the phrase ?political attack? to describe reports in the newspaper ABC Color that stolen animals were being hidden on a ranch he owns and that he had overcharged for beef sold to the Tacumubú correctional facility in Asunción, which is under the ministry he heads. The General Comptroller's Office confirmed that the beef was being provided at higher than market prices. On Febrary 23, the newspaper Última Hora warned of ?serious restrictions? included in an anti-kidnapping bill submitted to Congress by the prosecutor in charge of kidnapping cases, Rafael Fernández. This bill strictly forbids officials with the ?special unit? for kidnapping cases, and others who have access to information, from making statements or providing reports to the news media. The bill also bans the media from publishing news or information on alleged perpetrators or conspirators in a kidnapping who have not yet been arrested, and from reporting on investigations that may affect the proceedings. Also, members of the anti-kidnapping unit are prohibited from going to scenes of police raids accompanied by news reporters when this may affect the investigation. This and other bills that would provide for harsher penalties and establish procedures for kidnapping cases were submitted to Congress in the wake of the grave case of the kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Cubas, daughter of former President Raúl Cubas.