More than 11,000 Colombian politicians, state officials, businessmen and citizens are facing accusations of being accomplices to paramilitary groups, said research group Verdad Abierta Thursday.
“We asked the Prosecutor General’s Office how many people the paramilitaries mentioned voluntarily in their trials or in investigations and the prosecutor general gave us the number of 11,179 politicians, government officials, businessmen and citizens that were accomplices to paramilitary dealings,” Cesar Molinares Duenas, editor of Verdad Abierta, told Colombia Reports.
The infiltration of paramilitary groups into Colombian politics has become popularly known as “parapolitics.” Former president Alvaro Uribe and hundreds of his former officials have been implicated in the scandal, with dozens facing prosecution.
Verdad Abierta’s report revealed the extent to which the scandal has affected the country, from the highest political office to regional governments and businessmen.
From the beginning of 2005’s controversial Justice and Peace Law until the end of April 2012, prosecutors and officials have requested the investigation of 943 politicians, 870 military members, 330 public servants and 9,036 civilians, including several business owners suspected of contributing to paramilitary organizations in some fashion. The Justice and Peace reform sought to provide legal benefits to demobilized members of illegal armed groups, but instead invoked waves of criticism for granting impunity to human rights violators.
Seven of the past ten Senate presidents between 2002 and 2012 are being investigated for their ties to paramilitaries, while extradited AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders claimed President Uribe’s reelection campaign in 2006 was financed by the right-wing group.
Four institutions are in charge of investigating the alliances between paramilitaries and politicians: the Supreme Court, the offices of the prosecutor general, the inspector general and the Commission of Accusations for the House of Representatives.
The Prosecutor General’s Office, whose responsibilities include monitoring public officials, created a specialized commission to investigate parapolitics cases, known as the Monitoring Disciplinary Process Group. Initially, the group was meant to span only 2011, but was extended indefinitely in March. The investigative office at present has 356 ongoing cases and counting against public officials for ties to paramilitary groups, with the majority of cases concentrated in the northern Colombian departments of Antioquia, Cesar and Sucre.
Currently the Inspector General’s Office is processing 103 parapolitics cases, of which 88 are ongoing, 11 have disciplinary sanctions and four have been acquitted. The most notable of these cases is that of ex-senator and former ambassador to Peru Jorge Anibal Visbal, who was linked to paramilitaries during his time as the president of the Federation of Livestock through evidence and testimony. Current investigations also include mayors, senators and house representatives from throughout the country.
The Accusation Commision of the House of Representatives, which has the power to investigate the highest authoritative bodies in the country, including the President and the Supreme Court, is currently investigating only two cases, that of Mario Iguaran and Luis Camilo Osorio, who both held the prosecutor general position. Both high-profile cases have been stalled numerous times by the defense.
The original case against Osorio, who served as prosecutor general from 2001 to 2005 under President Uribe, was dropped due to an apparent lack of evidence. The investigation was reopened in March when he was ordered to testify about allegations that he allowed paramilitary infiltration during his tenure in office.
The former prosecutor general has also been repeatedly accused of purposefully dismissing cases against high-ranking Colombian officials with suspected ties to the AUC.
According to government officials, the biggest problem with parapolitics investigations is that the statute of limitations expires five years after the alleged crime takes place. For investigations that also include human rights violations, prosecutors have a 12-year window to process the case. Given these time limitations, many of the cases dealing with politicians’ ties to paramilitaries in the parliamentary elections in 2002 and 2003 have expired.
Another major obstacle to prosecutions is the inability to verify allegations. In several cases, public officials quit their post once an investigation was opened against them, and the prosecution loses its jurisdiction to investigate once an official has left their post.
A cache of emails from the computer of Vicente Castaño, who was one of the founders of the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), a precursor to the AUC, was released Wednesday implicating many high-profile politicians in the parapolitics scandal. Among the most damaging emails was one that mentioned former Minister of the Interior and Justice, Sabas Pretelt de la Vega, who reportedly offered to issue a law that would prevent paramilitaries from being extradited to the U.S.
It was also revealed that officials and AUC members met to discuss hastening the passing of 2005’s Justice and Peace Law to avoid scrutiny. “We have to push through the Constitutional Court ruling regarding Law 975. Surely it will come with substantial modifications to the original text approved by Congress. This has to be done in haste,” an email read.