“Addressing the criminal defamation laws would be a very important step” for press freedom, Hoyer said. “It would show the government is serious.”
A former TV child star, Piera started an investigative news magazine called “Nuria” 25 years ago. She has rankled officials and politicians with her investigative reports, such as those that helped expose a corrupt lottery system where government officials fixed the outcome and reaped the profits.
Her latest corruption investigation began after a trusted source showed up with the Excel spreadsheets containing the financial ledgers of companies owned by Sen. Felix Bautista.
Bautista had been a controversial figure in Dominican politics for years, rising from the levels of party politics to senator in a decade, with his companies earning millions along the way. Piera, her sister and a trusted employee pored over the registries at her office, a windowless, blood orange room adorned with journalism awards and artwork.
“We saw millions and millions of dollars in transfers,” she said. “Many of the records were routine business entries. But a lot of money had been funneled through his businesses to win contracts in other places.”
Some $2.5 million of those transfers showed up in the registries with the description of having been delivered to “MMartelly.” She based allegations about the involvement of Haitian President Michel Martelly and others on those entries.
Her staff verified the veracity of other records by checking with local merchants who’d done business with the Bautista’s companies, she said. She declined to provide copies of the ledgers to The Herald because she feared her source would be revealed.
Weeks later, she took to the airways on her normal Monday evening timeslot and dropped a bombshell: Bautista had sent millions in kickbacks to Haitian presidential candidates, including Martelly before and even after he won the election, and received lucrative construction contracts in exchange, she alleged.
Bautista, who has denied any impropriety, did not return calls left at his office. Martelly has denied the report.
The legality of Bautista’s transfers is unclear. Although a Dominican prosecutor took up the case, the office declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
In Haiti, the Dominican contracts were at the center of a contentions dispute between former Prime Minister Garry Conille and Martelly. Conille, who abruptly resigned after only four months, had called for an investigation into the no-bid contracts, saying that Haiti had broken its own procurement laws when it awarded them to Bautista’s companies.
Conille’s successor, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, has said publicly that he will continue the investigations into the Dominican contracts and will honor the recommendations of the commission investigating the matter.
Donors have told the Haitian government that it has to do a proper job of handling the contracts’ investigation or risk losing support from donors and investors.
In the Dominican Republic, little has come of Piera’s allegations.
“In terms of an investigation, no, nothing will happen,” Piera said dismissively. “I didn’t expect anything to happen. I’ve been around long enough.”