02 February 2013

Former Justice Minister Lobato loses appeal and is jailed

Photo of Lucia Lobato
Lucia Lobato Source: Opini Timor
ETLJB 02 February 2013 - The former Justice Minister of East Timor, Lucia Lobato, has lost her appeal to the Court of Appeal to overturn the Dili District Court's conviction of her on charges related to corruption in a Justice Ministry tender process. Although she was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Dili District Court in June 2012, she had remained free pending her appeal to the highest court of the country against her conviction and sentence.

After months of uncertainty, Ms Lobato was reported by Televizaun Timor-Leste on 23 January 2013 to have voluntarily surrendered herself to the Court and was then taken to the prison at Gleno in Ermera District after the majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal.

Ms Lobato had previously attacked the courts as politically biased after she was convicted by the Dili District Court.

Her lawyer, Mr. Sergio Hornai, had lodged an application for habeus corpus with the Court of Appeal that was rejected on Thursday, 31 January 2013.

However, the Court of Appeal's decision was not unanimous with the Chief Justice, Claudio Ximenes dissenting from the majority decision. In his dissenting judgement, Judge Ximenes wrote in his ruling on the habeus corpus application that the Court had erred in its previous decision to uphold the lower court's verdict. The President of the Court of Appeal delivered his reasons that the Court had made a number of errors in their decision against Lucia Lobato. In his opinion, the decision by the Court on her appeal against convicton had not been final and executable so her detention was not lawful because there had been other proceedings to be heard.
Image of Judge Claudio Ximenes
Judge Claudio Ximenes Source: Opini Timor

“In my view the applicant accused Lucia Lobato should immediately be released from prison,” Claudio wrote in his ruling on the habeas corpus which was delivered last Wednesday 30 January last.

But the two other judges on the bench of the Court of Appeal, Judge Jose Luis Gouveia and Judge Maria Natercia Gusmao, disagreed with the Chief Judge's reasons and Ms Lobato will remain in prison for the time being.

Defence counsel Sergio Hornai was reported by Timor Post yesterday (01 February 2013) as stating to journalists on 31 January 2013 at the Office of Public Defender in Balide, Dili that he thought that despite being a minority ruling, Judge Ximenes' decision was still good jurisprudence and that he had analysed the habeus corpus request in-depth.

Immediately after the Court of Appeal’s decision, the defence team held an urgent meeting with Lucia Lobato’s husband, Americo Lopes, and her son, Mauhuran, before lodging a constitutional petition with the Court of Appeal yesterday afternoon.

Approached by journalists after the meeting in question, the husband of the former Justice Minister Lucia Lobato declined to comment to the media on his wife’s case, as did her son Mauhuran.

The case raised questions about the rule of law in East Timor and fears that Ms Lobato would not serve any of her sentence or only a part of it. Her uncle, Rogerio Lobato, who was convicted for his role in the distribution of state weapons to civilians that was one of the triggers of the 2006 Crisis in East Timor, was pardoned by the then-President Jose Ramos Horta after serving only a short term of his 7-year sentence.

In addition, the question has been raised why a high public offical should have been represented by the Public Defender whose primary role is to provide legal defence to the poor.

Related reports

Justice minister sues East Timor newspaper
Former Justice Minister Lucia Lobato to go to jail for 5 years
Timor Justice Minister considers appeal
Lobato ‘Ready to Explain Truth’ as Corruption Trial Begins
Anti-Corruption Commission applies for house arrest of Justice Minister Lobato
East Timor Justice Minister Lobato Defends Husband
Public Prosecution presents new witnesses for Minister Lobato's case
Former East Timor justice minister receives jail sentence
Parliament removes Minister Lobato’s political immunity 
CJITL: Minister for Justice Lucia is Formally Made Suspect in Maternus Bere Case 
Perversion of the rule of law in Timor-Leste and its impact on State legitimacy

Sources: Timor Post 01/02/2013, East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin 14/12/2012 and 22/12/2012. Edited by Warren L. Wright BA LLB

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