Trial of Dominican Republic’s “Operation Squid” Incident Involving Gaming Officials Begins

A corruption scandal that has rocked every level of the Dominican Republic (DR) government is finally coming to a conclusion. Individuals throughout the government, including members of the gambling regulator, were involved in a network of fraud against the state, and some will soon face prosecution for their actions.

The initial judicial proceedings of those involved in what has become known as the “Squid operation” took place on Tuesday. There was a packed courtroom for the hearing to present charges of corruption and embezzlement against the 20 defendants.

These 20 only account for a portion of the total number of people involved and who the public prosecutor’s office accuses of corruption while they were government officials. The scandal dates back to when Danilo Medina was president of the DR, from 2012 to 2020, for which he is also under investigation for corruption and unlawful accumulation of wealth.

The Mighty Fall

The defendants arrived at their first hearing wearing masks, helmets and other protective gear. Soldiers had to escort them for additional security.

The visit was brief. Judge Kenya Romero postponed the hearing until next Sunday following a request from the defendants’ lawyers. They requested more time to review the accusations, which is no small task.

The Public Ministry file consists of 2,120 pages and 1,200 pieces of evidence, according to its statements. Prosecutor Yeni Berenice Reynoso argued that this would be sufficient for the court to rule on the accused’s preventive detention. She is seeking to have them held in prison for 18 months to prevent any attempts to evade prosecution.

During the hearing, the court also verified that all the defendants and their legal counsels had been notified. Judge Romero then ordered the delivery, in digital format, of the evidence to support the lawyers’ petition.

The defendants in the Squid operation comprise of former Minister of Public Works and Communications Gonzalo Castillo, Administrative Minister of the Presidency José Ramón Peralta (a close ally of Medina when he was in power), and Minister of Finance Donald Guerrero. They are believed to have been the masterminds behind the fraud that siphoned off over $350 million from the government.

The list of individuals implicated in the scandal also includes the former Comptroller General of the Republic, Daniel Omar Caamaño; the former director of the State Sugar Council, Luis Miguel Piccirilo; former director of the National Registry, Claudio Silver Peña; and economist Ángel Lockward.

Even the gambling and casino sector has not been spared, with former directors Oscar Chalas Guerrero and Julián Omar Fernández both under investigation. Prosecutors have yet to provide details of their respective roles, which will be revealed during the upcoming hearings.

Cleaning Up DR’s Political Mess

Certain political figures in the DR have been striving to eliminate political corruption, which has caused numerous undesirable outcomes and controversies over the past decade, with many linked to Medina and his family.

The Squid case is the result of 16 months of inaction by the Public Ministry in regards to corruption cases. The last one presented was on November 18 of last year. This included Medina’s second-in-command of security, General Julio de los Santos Viola, and Juan Carlos Torres Robiou, the former head of the Specialized Tourist Security Corps.

Last year, the Dominican National Lottery was at the center of a scandal involving allegations of rigged draws. Despite the pervasive evidence of fraud and government corruption, DR President Luis Abinader has remained silent. He gave a lengthy speech at the end of February which omitted any mention of corruption or a desire to restore the government’s integrity.