Colombia: former peace commissioner charged with fraud, arms trafficking

Colombia’s former Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo was charged with conspiracy, fraud and illegal arms trafficking Feb. 10, despite having left the country. The prosecution, having already successfully sought an arrest warrant against Restrepo, demanded the close ally of ex-president Alvaro Uribe be sent to jail while awaiting trial because of his attempt to flee and failure to appear before hearings five times. According to prosecutor Francisco Villarreal of Colombia’s Fiscalía, the ex-peace commissioner had actively taken part in a fraudulent demobilization of 62 bogus FARC fighters in 2006.

The prosecutor called the fake demobilization process a “criminal enterprise” whose purpose was to obtain legal and financial benefits for drug traffickers and already-demobilized FARC guerrilla “Olivo Saldaña.” He also sought to legitimize the increasingly controversial demobilization of right-wing paramilitary organization AUC, the prosecution said. “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Restrepo, in his capacity as peace commissioner, helped mastermind the fraud, because he had been suggested by the command of the AUC to seek reapproachment with left-wing groups in order to benefit the procedures against them, to legitimimize the demobilization process,” Villarreal asserted.

Restrepo was appointed by then-president Uribe to lead the controversial dismantling of the AUC between 2003 and 2006, in which more than 30,000 suspected paramilitary fighters surrendered to authorities in exchange for legal benefits. He is now the fourth high government official to be ordered to await trial in jail; Uribe’s former agriculture minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, is alread jailed for allegedly embezzling $25 million, his ex-chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, is in jail for his alleged role in the illegal wiretapping of the Supreme Court and government opponents, and his former intelligence chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado sought refuge in Panama over her alleged role in the same wiretap scandal. Uribe’s first intelligence chief, Jorge Noguera Cotes, was sentenced because of his ties to the AUC and complicity in the killing of labor union leaders. Uribe himself is being investigated by a congressional committee in the wiretap scandal, concerning the now-disbanded Administrative Security Department (DAS).

Uribe claims he and his the veterans of his administration are victim of a “criminal revenge” and “political persecution.” (Colombia Reports, AP, Feb. 11; AP, July 30, 2011; RCN Radio, July 25, 2011)

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