The president of Colombia’s Constitutional Court has filed a corruption complaint against his predecessor in the midst of allegations against his own questionable behavior, local media reported.
Before the Accusations Committee of the House of Representatives, Magistrate Jorge Ignacio Pretelt accused Magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas of allegedly meeting on four occasions with a person that had interests in the filing of a “tutela” — a writ of protection designed to protect constitutional rights – in 2013.
Pretelt’s been forced to appear before Congress after revelations by Vargas he requested a bribe from an oil company.
But faced by his colleague’s unanimous request to leave the court, the magistrate hit back, filing a complaint implying he might not be the only corrupt member of the top court.
Pretelt’s lawsuit specifies that Vargas met with Fernando Sarmiento, who wished to influence court decision over a tutela filed by the Society of Representatives of Santa Maria against the Court of Arbitration in Bogota’s Chamber of Commerce.
At the time, Sarmiento served as an arbitrator on the court in question along with three others.
Pretelt therefore asked the legislative body to investigate the magistrate for his supposed involvement in crimes of trading influence and malfeasance through action, among other behavior considered contrary to the rules of the court.
The magistrate claims his high court colleague pressured the body into making a decision that favored the interests of Sarmiento.
The accusing report indicates that the tutela case was presented in 2012 and was selected so that Vargas would have “unduly benefited the interests of the arbitrator Fernando Sarmiento, to vote in is favor in a tutela process after having met with him various times in the Constitutional Court.”
For the complainant, “it is not normal” that Vargas met in his office on four occasions with a person directly “interested” in the process and who desired benefits. Two of the meetings occurred before the filing of the tutela.
The tutela in question refers to the protection of due process for the Society of Representatives of Santa María against the Court of Arbitration who had been commissioned to settle a dispute concerning the property of multinational ExxonMobil Colombia.
Magistrate Pretelt filed the case in favor of Santa María, and argued that the Court of Arbitration had no jurisdiction to intervene in the case in question, highlighting that between the involved parties was an act of reconciliation.
However, in the debate, Magistrate Vargas presented his objections to the decision, arguing that there had been a mistake and the court did have the ability to settle the lawsuit.
“It is clear that the intention of Magistrate Vargas was to declare improper the tutela, to benefit directly the lawyer Fernando Sarmiento,” said Pretelt.
However, the court president is embroiled in a scandal of his own – the biggest since the Constitutional Court’s inception in 1991.
The magistrate arrived back in court last month after a week of absence, much to the discontent of his colleagues who had directly requested his resignation due to the charges surrounding him of alleged corruption.
Pretelt came under unprecedented fire when magistrate Mauricio Gonzalez accused the court president of asking oil company Fidupetrol for $200 thousand in return for promising that the court would revoke a $9 million fine imposed on the company by a lower court.
If found guilty of demanding bribes to alter the sentences of one of the country’s highest courts, it would reveal a corruption practice that is entirely unprecedented on the highest possible level of Colombia’s justice hierarchy.