Panama’s Supreme Court has announced that the political asylum granted to Colombia’s former intelligence chief is unconstitutional, La Prensa news reported Thursday.
With a vote of 8-1, the country’s supreme court ruled that political asylum granted to Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former head of the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency, is in violation of the country’s constitution.
According to the El Espectador newspaper, Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office, who was granted the authority to request Hurtado’s extradition yesterday, has not been notified. It is unclear how the Prosecutor General’s Office will proceed.
An initial extradition request was filed by Colombia in 2011, however Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined that Hurtado’s extradition “was not viable.”
Hurtado is the former director of the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency, which in 2008 was caught spying on Colombia’s Supreme Court, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Supreme Court rejected a request by Congress to have the disgraced former spy chief brought back to the country from her exile in Panama to face a series of pending criminal charges.
The criminal chamber of the Supreme Court stated that it is the Prosecutor General’s Office and not Congress’ Second Committee of Foreign Relations that has the power to request Hurtado’s — former director of the now defunct Department of Administrative Security (DAS) – return from her exile in Panama.
Fernando Castro, the magistrate in charge of the case, argued that Congress “has no legal interest and standing to make such requests in this process,” and added that the request needs to be taken up by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The Supreme Courts’ decision follows an announcement made by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos last week, in which he stated that he would request the extradition of the former director as a result of the charges she faced in Colombia.
Prior the Santos’ announcement, the Colombian House of Representatives approved the extradition request which called on the president of Panama to extradite the former intelligence director.
Hurtado’s initial extradition request was filed by Congressman Ivan Cepeda, a victim of the DAS spying scandal. Cepeda told Radio W, “It is the legislature that makes this request to the competent authorities.
The president-elect of Panama has expressed his intention to review the situation, and we hope that he addresses this request filed by those who were victims of the DAS’ criminal activity under Ms. Hurtado’s leadership.”
FACT SHEET: DAS wiretapping scandal
The country’s most infamous wiretapping scandal unfolded under Hurtado in 2008, after opposition politicians, media and authorities discovered that Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency, the DAS, had been spying on the Supreme Court, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians.
Much of the information was then handed over to right-wing paramilitary groups.
Labeled, “DASgate,” the investigations unveiled a comprehensive and extensive surveillance and interception campaign that had been targeting the Supreme Court in order to discredit the country’s institution that was investigating links between paramilitaries and politicians, the majority being political allies of the former President Alvaro Uribe.
The scandal almost immediately cost the head of DAS director Maria del Pilar Hurtado who, in spite of initially denying her agency had been involved with illegal activities, was forced to leave her post.
Hurtado later fled to Panama where she received political asylum months before the Supreme Court ordered an arrest warrant.
In February 2009, weekly Semana revealed that the DAS was the main force behind a dark industry that served paramilitaries, guerrillas and corrupt political forces. The revelations drew international criticism, and led to the resignation of more than 33 DAS agents and more than a dozen of arrests.
Hurtado received political asylum in Panama in November 2010 after claiming she had fallen victim to political persecution, and she has been residing in the country ever since.
President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the DAS agency in 2011.