Lessons in Mercy and Justice

Sometimes God presents us with lessons that we never saw coming. Sometimes he uses pain to demonstrate an end game. Sometimes the line between justice and mercy is hard to distinguish. Sometimes forgiveness is hard to do.

It was all these thoughts and more that ran through my mind as we sat in the final proceedings with Indecopi and the ABC company. For those of you that aren’t aware of the story on how we got to this point, you can read the long version here. The short version is that the company (ABC) that we contracted to bring our possessions from the port of Callao to Cusco repeatedly lied to us, manipulated circumstances to drive up charges, charged us for services never rendered, and when they did finally deliver the shipment, it arrived broken, reeking of fish, water damaged, and with several items missing.

We were torn as to what to do, as we didn’t really want to sue anyone. However after much consultation, we decided to file a request for an investigation with the government branch known as Indecopi. Think of this as the Better Business Bureau of Peru. They have the power to investigate any business  accused of malpractice and force recompenses to be made should they deem them necessary. It is a relatively newly empowered institution as Peru has been really striving to fix corruption in the past five years.

We filed our report in early January. At the time, Indecopi told us that due to the severity of the case, we could expect resolution within 30 days. It was June when I was experiencing these final proceedings. Part of the delay did make sense. After all, in true engineer fashion, I did present to Indecopi a 20 page outline of my complaints that took them day by day in every single interaction we had with ABC. I then substantiated every one of my claims with email records, photos, transaction receipts, all of the customs paperwork, and every other single piece of evidence I could find. All total the entire package I gave to Indecopi was around 150 pages.

There were many obstacles after January before we got to the final proceedings. Indecopi got my carnet number confused with the DNI number of a national that also had an open case going. Indecopi asked me to summarize my document into bullet points of where I believed my rights violated and gave me two days to do it. Indecopi decided that there was enough preliminary evidence that every one of my 19 bullet points was an actual violation of my rights, and they gave ABC 5 days to respond. ABC never responded. Indecopi reaches out to us and ABC asking both of us to be prepared to come to their headquarters. ABC sends a response to the 19 points (well past the deadline), and under Peruvian law Indecopi forwards it to me. The responses, in general, were a verbal attack upon my integrity. They called me a liar, declared that there was no evidence to support my claims, blamed third party contractors and customs for many of the issues, and generally refused to accept any blame whatsoever.

It was at this point that Indecopi, mandated all parties to come to a meeting in mid June. By a small miracle the meeting was scheduled to be 11 hours before I left the country to return to the States for my sister’s wedding. They also used a lot of legal jargon that even the best missionary Spanish would have problems understanding. So about two weeks prior, we found legal counsel in Lima that was friends of the church. He agreed to read through everything and accompany us to the meeting.

It was the night prior to the meeting that we met with our legal aid and went over everything. What he told us was quite enlightening. First he apologized to us that this had ever happened to us. He stated that this was one of the worst extortions of Americans that he had seen. Second, he sided with us that almost all of ABC’s responses were weak and could be exposed with my supplied evidence. Third, he wanted to know what we were seeking out of the case. Finally, he wanted to tell me that, in reality, most of the power for what the final outcome would be lied with us.

By that last line, I mean the following. Indecopi labels every case they see in one of three categories. Roughly translated they are misdemeanor, bad, and really bad. Per our advisor, this case was at minimum bad and likely very bad. Furthermore, for each charge (bullet point I outlined) a base charge of about $1,300 could be issued by Indecopi. This is money ABC would have to pay the government. However, depending on the investigation that would ensue should we not settle with ABC the following day, multipliers could be assigned to the base charge. In the misdemeanor category, up to a 80x multiplier could be applied. The bad had up to a 200x multiplier; while the very bad carried an up to 450x multiplier.

It was in those moments that we realized we had the power to decide if we allowed ABC to be literally destroyed with fines by the government. Even if most of our points were determined to not require the highest multiplier of the category, it would not take much effort for the case to exceed a million dollars in government fines plus the total value of everything ABC had cost us. Our advisor made it clear that ABC was going to attempt to settle at any cost the next day, and that if we did not settle, ABC was likely finished.

At first, this seemed like a marvelous place to be in – to know that how the story finishes is completely within your control and that you can obtain whatever you really desire out of the outcome. However, upon further ponderment, the gravity of the situation hits you hard. ABC employs more than the two people I interacted with and the CEO that declared me a liar. Should ABC get hit with charges, all those people would lose their jobs. I could unwittingly make myself undesirable No.1 in the eyes whatever Peruvian mafia might exist. We decided that as long as ABC agreed to cover most of what we lost and showed an intention to prevent similar situations in the future, then we would settle.

It was the following morning that we all met at Indecopi. It was myself, my friend Jorge (see the previous article on how he was closely tied to the situation), our legal advisor, the primary contact I had had interaction with from ABC, the CEO of ABC, their lawyer, and the Indecopi liaison crammed into a seven by ten foot room. It was quite the situation – to come face to face with those who had taken action against you and caused you to suffer.

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In those moments, all I desired was for ABC to admit guilt. Had they come in, shown remorse, and stated they wanted to make things right, I would have been overcome with joy and completely willing to negotiate to a lower settlement price point. Our primary purpose for going to Indecopi in the first place was to prevent this from occurring to any who followed behind us. I didn’t want to destroy them; I wanted to see them grow in the right ways.

What followed was anything but my hopes. ABC came in declaring the fault of everything had passed to lie with anyone but themselves. Again it was the contractors, customs, and even Mr. Mitchel’s fault. They presented a document – that I can only assume was fabricated as it was never given to me before – showing that all the items had arrived damaged from the States. They declared me to be lying in many of my points and claimed that I had given them verbal permission via telephone to undertake any  actions that appeared questionable. That last point really caught my ire. It is quite the sensation to have some one say they are guiltless because of what they wanted to be true and wanted you to say rather than the rather explicit instructions and desires I had outlined to them in emails and conversations.

Through all of this I remained silent, preferring to let my legal advisor speak for me. What transpired was slightly hilarious. ABC, perhaps feeling overconfident, let the CEO do the vast majority of the talking for them. As we started going through each and every one of the 19 declarations, many times the ABC CEO would talk himself into a corner. By that I mean he would contradict things he had written as a defense to other points or directly contradict email records, photographic evidence, or transaction records. Our legal aid recognized every time this occurred and called him out on it. It didn’t take long for his credibility to be shot.

Furthermore, every time this occurred, the Indecopi agent would make a note to himself. I would later learn that those notes would mean fines to ABC regardless of whether or not we settled. Indecopi was not going to sit idly by and listen to an admission of malpractice in their own building without fining the perpetuator. After about 3 or so of these notes and a couple hours later with everyone’s stomach rumbling for lunch, the discussion turned to what the settlement package should be.

ABC, still feeling superiority, offered to pay us just a few hundred dollars. That wouldn’t have even covered our travel expenses. It was around here that I believe the CEO realized the ramifications that were coming his way quickly when I promptly refused his offer. The tune quickly changed to how he was just a poor Peruvian working and living in soles while I was an American with dollars and how any amount more than what he offered would cripple him. We kindly asked him to cover all that we had lost as we too lived and worked here in this society.

The negotiations progressed slowly with Indecopi eventually stepping in and saying what they thought I was likely to receive should the investigation continue to proceed. This set a much more reasonable bar to talk around. We eventually came to terms that would not cover all that we had lost, but the majority. However, we were able to negotiate in that ABC would have to provide mandatory, free training to all their employees on ethics, proper law abiding procedures, and customer interactions. They would have to host these within a reasonable time frame and prove to Indecopi that a third party did actually come in and supply them. A payment plan was set up, and suddenly this part of my life that had lasted nearly seven months was over.

As the papers were written up for signing, my friend Jorge made the most of the opportunity to make sure ABC knew we didn’t wish them any ill will. He talked with them about life and the importance of treating everyone with courtesy and respect when you meet them. He also talked to them about the importance of calling out wrong whenever it is witnessed and why we felt like we had to do what we did. By the end of it all, the mood was much more pleasant.

In and amongst the discussions on that final day, a startling realization hit me. It made me hit my knees and pray to God all over again. I begged for forgiveness – for myself, for those I knew, for mankind in general. I thanked him for sending Jesus to save us. For in that one day I had gone through a microcosm of what I knew was to come.

I went in desiring nothing more than to hear an admission of guilt and the opportunity to move forward with good intentions. All I received was a million reasons why it wasn’t their fault. The reasons varied from legalistic interpretation to shifting of blame to flat out lying. They even attempted to tell me incorrectly things I had explicitly outlined to them with written documents in order to justify their actions. At the end of the day though, two facts remained: I had more than enough evidence to convict them of every crime they were accused of, and I had the power to take down and dismantle their business should I will it.

The funny thing is, in spite of all that had transgressed, I did not wish to destroy them. I did not want them wo be hit with so many governmental fines that they would be forced to lose everything and fire everyone. I wanted to see them change. I wanted to see them become something they weren’t. I was torn. I wanted to see justice, but desperately wanted to extend mercy.

So why was it that I fell to my knees? It was because I saw that I had experienced on a very small scale that which the creator would undergo on the day of judgement. I do not profess myself to be God-like or to have even the faintest idea of what is actually to come to pass when it comes to the magnitude of that day. I’m sure even my wildest dreams are not even close. However, I do see similarities in what I experienced and what will come.

The funny thing is that for the first time I considered what it would be like to have to sit on the other side of that judgement seat, and it broke my heart. I don’t know how ABC came and presented their case like it was, let alone how they had committed the atrocities in the first place. However, in the analogy that had unfolded in my mind, the guilt of mankind was crystal clear and the struggle of mercy versus justice for the judge was never more pronounced. The purpose of how an intermediary could serve to provide that opportunity for mercy  was obvious to me. As was the fact that I was no better than ABC. That I had done things in my life that I knew to be wrong.

So that is how this story ends. Luckily this time around, the needle on the clock continues to move for everyone. Sadly though I don’t believe this will be the case forever, and the struggle in mercy and justice will be all too real.

In Him,

Mitchel and Rachel