Politicized justice? Colombia’s incoming vice-prosecutor general resigns before taking office

President Ivan Duque (L) and Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa. (Image: Prosecutor General's Office)

Colombia’s incoming deputy chief prosecutor resigned on Saturday, two days after his appointment and one day after former President Andres Pastrana requested his removal.

Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa announced the appointment of Juan Francisco Espinoza as his right-hand man in a joint press conference on Thursday.

In a tweet, the current migration chief said he was “honored” and that he “will assume this task with great responsibility and commitment.”

Hours before taking up his appointment on Saturday, Espinoza announced his “decision not to accept the Vice-Prosecutor General’s Office for strictly family-related reasons” on Twitter.

The political interference in justice

Former President Andres Pastrana (Image: Twitter)

Former President Andres Pastrana objected to Espinoza’s appointment in an open letter sent to Barbosa on Friday, in which he asked for the appointment of an ad-hoc deputy.

Pastrana rejected Espinoza’s appointment “for the reason of the recent professional ties of the current Vice-Prosecutor General with people who would have an interest” in investigating one of his political adversaries.

Together with former President Alvaro Uribe, we presented to the then Prosecutor General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, a detailed denunciation of evidence of illegal financing of the reelection of President Juan Manuel Santos — which I am enclosing — a letter that has been left without response since August 18, 2017.

Former President Andres Pastrana

Espinoza occupied top administrative positions in both the administrations of Santos and Duque, who both have been implicated in the Odebrecht bribery scandal because of claims that the Brazilian engineering firm illegally financed the campaigns of both Santos and his then-opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga of Duque’s far-right Democratic Center party.

The conflicts of interest

Former President Juan Manuel Santos

Independent investigation into the allegedly illegal contributions to both campaigns have been virtually impossible because of the involvement of not just Duque and Santos, but also former chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez, in Odebrecht’s bribery practices and attempts to cover these up.

Barbosa denied having ceded to the political pressure of Pastrana, one of the powers behind the throne of Duque, who swore in his chief prosecutor on Saturday.

“No one leads me, through letters or demonstrations, to make decisions,” said the chief prosecutor, who is a close friend of the president whose patrons expect the prosecution only to go after their political adversary.

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