Colombia’s ambassador to the United States is implicated in the fraudulent legalizing of stolen lands for major Colombian companies, a Colombian senator said Sunday.
According to opposition Senator Jorge Robledo, ambassador Carlos Urrutia’s former company, law firm Brigard & Urrutia, helped major companies like cement monopolist Argos and business mogul German Efromovich to illegally obtain stolen land.
Robledo claimed that the cases involving Urrutia’s former company demonstrate how Colombia’s top companies and businessmen were involved in the usurping of land through displacement, theft and avoiding legislation that put limits to the amount of land that may be privately owned.
According to the opposition senator, the ambassador’s former company fraudulently helped formalize large companies’ ownership of some 100,000 acres of land in central Colombia, transactions that are currently being investigated by the Superintendent for Notaries and Registries.
Robledo said the Superintendent had been conservative when estimating the Colombian state lost 1.7 million acres of land to corruption and called on authorities to investigate to find how much more had illegally been appropriated by established companies.
“There are illegal, improper and corrupt land appropriations across the country, Robledo said in an interview with press agency Colprensa, adding that “it is important that the complaints begin to generate investigations into this immense violation of the law,”
According to Robledo, “it is common knowledge that in this world of farmer evictions, paramilitary group, guerrillas and white collar criminals” took part in the massive land theft.
Former Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo had already denounced a “mafia” within government land distribution organization Incoder that was working to illegally distribute land to convicted criminals and wealthy Colombians.
Restrepo said, just before resigning last month, that 64,000 acres had illegally been granted to private companies.
Following the minister’s accusations, Incoder immediately froze pending processes to legalize the ownership of land, while it sought to purge the state agency of corrupt elements.
However, According to Robledo, Incoder and Restrepo themselves have inadvertently allowed the massive land theft.
Spanning a period of several administrations, the state has proven to be “naive” and “extremely slow” in responding to the theft and subsequent change in ownership of lands, said the senator.
In response, Superintendent for Notaries and Registries Jorge Enrique Velez announced to look into the irregularities “with a magnifying glass.”
Colombia’s agricultural lands have long been cause for criminal activity and armed conflict. Paramilitary and guerrilla groups for decades displaced farmers from their plots to subsequently sell these lands legally with the help of middlemen and corrupt Incoder officials. After taking office in 2010, President Juan Manuel Santos vowed to return these lands to the rightful owners.
Additionally, the government is negotiating with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, to come to terms on an agrarian reform that seeks to diminish inequality and poverty in rural Colombia and includes a redistribution of stolen and underused land.
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