Over the weekend, Rome’s Prosecutor’s Office officially started investigating Mario Paciolla’s death, a 33-year-old volunteer from the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia found hanged in his apartment in San Vicente del Caguán on July 15th. The autopsy also confirmed that it was a murder.
On July 23th, the body of Mario Paciolla was embarked on a direct flight from Bogotà to Rome, and arrived at the coroner’s led by Professor Vittorio Fineschi in precarious conditions. The remains were covered in kilos of sawdust and the body had not been reassembled after the first autopsy performed in Colombia. In the meantime, however, new details that Colombian investigators had missed have been revealed . First of all, the amount of blood found at the crime scene does not correspond to the highly superficial wounds found on the victim’s wrists, as if he had tried to cut his veins. Secondly, the “groove” on the neck shows a knot too sophisticated to have been made by himself. But the delivery of the first experts’ report is already pending and may arrive this week.
The Colombian reports wrote: “everything led us to assume a suicide”. Also, the general director for international relations of Fiscalia, Alejandro Jimenez, pointed out that, “no elements have emerged from the investigations that would put the hypothesis into question.” Neither the family nor those who knew him well ever believed that theory. His mother, Anna Motta, called the assumption “nonsense.” She said that her son was extremely worried in the days preceding his death.
The journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, Mario’s friend, who immediately conducted a thorough investigation into the affair, published a letter-article in “El Espectador” that clarified various aspects. A fundamental point was the “troubled” relationship between Mario and his superiors of the UN Mission in Colombia. The report explained that it was no longer safe for Mario to stay there. A colleague accused him of “being a spy”. On 10th July, during an informal meeting, he had a dispute with his “chiefs” and the following day he told his mother about that, describing himself as “disgusted.”
The day before his death, he was planning to leave San Vicente del Caguàn, where he lived, to move to Bogotà, and to wait to depart for France on July 20th, and then reach his hometown, Naples. Mario had bought two tickets to Paris, as he intended to convince his ex-girlfriend, Ilaria Izzo, to leave the UN mission in Colombia, where she was also involved. That was one of their last arguments, as she did not want to leave the country.
The stories match with what Mario’s ex-girlfriend told the authorities. “In the last few phone calls, he was crying. He was afraid of being intercepted and stalked.” Paciolla was becoming “obsessive” with his concerns. She also said that Paciolla, probably in relation to something he had witnessed, told her that he had lost faith in two colleagues of the mission whose names are known by Fiscalia and are among the employees of the mission for which the UN has already granted the waiver of diplomatic immunity. Ilaria Izzo said that she had been on the phone with Paciolla for a long time on July 14th and described the conversation as particularly tense with continuous crying fits and screaming to the point that Paciolla said “he no longer wanted to live.” Furthermore, the 33-year-old confessed to her that she had been “the woman of his life” and “begged her to leave Colombia, using the plane ticket he had bought her”.
The motive: the fall of a Minister?
Last week, El Espectador reported that Paciolla had been in charge of investigating a bombing carried out by the military against a village of FARC dissidents, where 7 teenagers were also killed. The material that Paciolla had prepared for the UN, then arrived in the hands of an opposition senator, Roy Barreras, president of the Peace Commission with the FARC, who would use it to pillory the government. That affair forced the then-Defense Minister, Guillermo Botero, to resign.
From that moment on, Mario Paciolla would no longer feel safe. The Colombian newspaper reports that during a holiday in Naples, after the scandal two weeks earlier, and following a cyber-attack in November 2019, Mario deleted his personal and family photos from social networks, made his account private on Facebook, changed his password, and although he left his Twitter account open, suppressed his tweets. He asked a friend to back up his personal computer data and his father, Giuseppe Paciolla, to separate the Internet connection in his apartment from that of the family home.
Paciolla felt “in danger, betrayed, and was irritated with his chiefs,” he had also asked for his transfer to another location of the Mission after understanding that parts of the reports he compiled had caused a severe blow to the military leaders and forced the minister to resign.
Roy Barreras, president of the Senate Peace Commission, spoke with the journalist Claudia Julieta Duque about this reconstruction of the facts and denied having received material from the United Nations Verification Mission on the attack in Caguàn, arguing that the its sources have been army officers, tired of military actions and their abuses against human rights.
The Italian investigators, led by the prosecutor Alberto Pioletti, who began their investigation from Paciolla’s apartment, discovered that the crime scene had been altered. Christian Thompson, a retired military man and contractor with the UN Mission in Colombia who served as head of security for the group to which Paciolla belonged, has raised suspicions in the case. Several sources stress that he would have stolen a computer mouse from the volunteer’s apartment and took it to the verification mission office. Additionally, Thompson was the first to find Paciolla’s lifeless body and threw away some of the things found at the crime scene.
Four agents of the Criminal Investigation Section (SIJIN) of the San Vicente del Caguán police were later investigated for allowing members of the UN Verification Mission to collect the 33-year-old Neapolitan’s personal effects, thus contaminating the crime scene.
During the daily press briefing with the UN Secretary-General spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, La Voce di New York Director, Stefano Vaccara, asked what he thought about the fact that authorities had difficulty in obtaining authorization for questioning certain people of the UN Mission in Colombia and how the headquarters are following the investigation (video below at 21.35).
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary General Antonio Guterres, replied: “We are continuing to work closely with the Colombian and Italian authorities as they proceed with their investigations. The main fact is that the UN personnel is, and will be, available for these investigations. As far as I know, there may have been some planning issues as people are in different places. I think we all want to clarify what happened. It is a tragedy that struck this young man, who was working and who worked with us as a United Nations volunteer”.