Three Former Supreme Court Justices Face Investigation in Yet Another High-Level Corruption Scandal in Colombia
Corruption scandals continue to spiral through the upper levels of Colombia’s government as several former members of the nation’s Supreme Court have come under investigation.
The probe — which is related to the June arrest of Colombia’s former top corruption-fighting official — is looking into evidence reportedly spawning from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that three top justices accepted bribes in exchange for issuing favorable rulings for a governor and two senators who were themselves charged with corruption, according to an investigative report by Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo.
“It hurts to confirm that corruption can reach state institutions so high,” said President Juan Manuel Santos today in the capital. (Photo: Presidencia de la República)
The former justices in question, according to the paper, are José Leonidas Bustos, Francisco Javier Ricaurte, and Camilo Tarquino, who unlike the other two is reportedly under investigation for violations committed while he was a lawyer, not acting a judge. The DEA reportedly possesses evidence stemming from wiretaps, according to El Tiempo.
Luis Gustavo Moreno, the anti-corruption chief in the office of Colombia’s attorney general before his June arrest, was detained on charges of soliciting and accepting a bribe from a former governor in the department of Córdoba who was seeking to pay off the official in exchange for his assistance in winning at trial.
The charges brought against Moreno, who has since admitted wrong-doing, were rooted in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that presumably overlaps with the current wiretaps involving the former Supreme Court justices.
President Juan Manuel Santos today confirmed that the investigations are underway, urging the authorities to carry out their investigation quickly and saying that the revelation pained him personally. “It hurts me as the president, as head of state, and as Colombian,” said Santos. “It hurts to confirm that corruption can reach state institutions so high.”
Odebrecht Scandal Continues to Widen
Investigations have shown that money from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction firm that has paid record-breaking sums — billions of dollars — in fines for a global bribery racket it ran for more than a decade, wound up in the campaign coffers of politicians, including the current president while he was first running for office and for re-election.
The Odebrecht scandal, which has implicated multiple former presidents and high-ranking officials across Latin America throughout 2017, has also ensnared several other public officials in Colombia.
Late last month, the attorney general announced that Luis Fernando Andrade, the president of Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency, had been implicated for his role in awarding a road project to Odebrecht. The Ruta del Sol II and Ocaña-Gamarra road projects are the two known contracts that were illicitly won in Colombia by Odebrecht, which is believed to have paid out some $11.5 million USD in bribes in the country. According to the attorney general, Andrade is scheduled to face a hearing in Bogotá on September 21.
Other public officials in Colombia so far implicated, arrested, or charged in relation to Odebrecht bribes include former senator Otto Bula, former transport minister Gabriel García Morales, infrastructure agency official Juan Sebastián Correa, and senator Bernardo Miguel Elías.
The matter continues to affect Colombia’s efforts to progress with its massive highway overhaul project, which has been underway for several years and includes plans to invest tens of billions of dollars over the next decade in infrastructure upgrades.
National Planning Department head Luis Fernando Mejía told Finance Colombia earlier this summer that foreign investors remain highly interested in participating in this “Fourth Generation” (4G) road overhaul project. But concerns remain. So as the nation moves into the second and third waves of financing, the government is working to ease fears held by some international banks about contract guarantees in a post-Odebrecht world.
“We are making sure that the Odebrecht stuff doesn’t add a lot of noise to the financial closure of the second and third waves,” Mejía told Finance Colombia. “We’re working very closely with the banks and with the investors to leave a message of tranquility. There are not going to be any issues at all. Everyone is going to get paid.”
Money Laundering Syndicate Busted
In an unrelated investigation, Colombia’s attorney general also announced today that it has shut down a syndicate known to have laundered some $71 million USD over five years.
A joint effort by the national police and the Financial Analysis and Information Unit (UIAF) led to the arrest of 20 suspected members of the Clan del Golfo, a criminal enterprise that laundered drug money by routing it through at least 10 different formal companies.
Seizures carried out across the the country — including raids in Bogotá, Medellín, Montería, Turbo, and Apartadó — yielded more than $150,000 USD in cash, firearms, 28 computers, 49 cell phones, and other digital storage equipment, according to the attorney general.
The Ongoing Corruption Fight in Colombia
Early this year, President Santos said that the fight against corruption would join the implementation of the nation’s peace process as the administration’s top priority for 2017
In tangible action, the president signed an order, the Declaration for the Open State, to improve public sector transparency and curb abuses in government contracting. He also sanctioned a law establishing a new code of ethics for Congress members, and both actions came after the nation established its Citizen’s Commission to Fight Corruption.
While he and other top officials becoming ensnared in the corruption web may not have been part of the initial plan, the ongoing Odebrecht-related fallout, the revelation of bribery schemes, and today’s money laundering arrests have dominated headlines throughout the year.
“In this fight against corruption, we must be tough and we must persevere,” said Santos today in reference to the investigation of former Supreme Court justices. “We are going to win the battle against corruption.”
Photo credit: Presidencia de la República