A former president of Colombia’s Supreme Court was sentenced to 19 years in prison on Thursday for his role in one of the biggest corruption scandals of the century.
Former Supreme Court magistrate Francisco Ricaurte was already convicted for his allegedly leading role in the “Toga Cartel,” a group of top judges that allegedly received bribes to obstruct investigations into top politicians.
Ricaurte’s defense attorney has categorically denied the charges and said he would appeal the conviction earlier this month.
Following the Bogota court’s guilty verdict, the top magistrate was arrested for a second time.
Ricaurte was surprisingly released from jail in 2019 after a series of suspicious delays in the trial, which merited the arrest of one of Colombia’s most powerful judicial officials in 2017.
The Toga Cartel
The United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed in mid-2017 that top prosecution and Supreme Court officials had formed a criminal organization in the very top of Colombia’s justice system.
The criminal activities and alleged members of the Toga Cartel were revealed by former the anti-corruption chief of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Luis Gustavo Moreno, after the aide of former chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez was caught red-handed by the DEA.
Moreno allegedly survived two assassination attempts after his arrest while revealing that he mediated bribes for Ricaurte, former Supreme Court president Leonidas Bustos and former magistrate Gustavo Malo.
The former top magistrates allegedly received these bribes from former governors and former congressmen to obstruct criminal investigations.
The scandal caused a major crisis in the Supreme Court as Malo at the time was still a member of the court and initially refused to step down.
Recovering confidence in justice
The revelation that corruption had reached the Supreme Court was a devastating blow to public confidence in Colombia’s justice system.
Systematic corruption and abuse of power severely corroded after Colombia’s current constitution took force in 1991, but never compromised the Supreme Court until the revelations of the DEA and Moreno.
The high court immediately sought to reestablish its authority by expelling the magistrate implicated in the scandal and revising the criminal investigations of the former magistrates involved in the scandal.
The Toga Cartel apparently began to take force after Ricaurte was elected magistrate of the Superior Judicial Council in 2012 and local media dubbed the former Supreme Court president “the power behind the throne” in the top of the justice system in 2013.
The criminal organization allegedly became particularly powerful after the 2016 election of Martinez, who appointed Moreno as his top corruption prosecutor.
The former chief prosecutor resigned in May 2019 after the war crimes tribunal ordered investigations against Martinez for his alleged abuse of power to conduct illegal activity not related to the Toga Cartel.
Moreno was convicted in 2017 already. Criminal investigations against Bustos and Malo are ongoing.