Several officials from Colombia’s Ministry of Defense privately suspected corruption in the process that saw former Navy Admiral Gabriel Arango Bacci acquitted in 2009 of all charges relating to ties with drug traffickers, a WikiLeaks cable revealed Wednesday.
These suspicions were very much in line with the U.S. sentiment at the time about the surprise turn around in an investigation that seemed set to sentence Arango earlier in 2009.
The then-U.S Ambassador William Brownfield responded publicly at the time that there was clear evidence to implicate Arango of having drug trafficking ties and that the case was very much within U.S. interests as those narcotics reached U.S. shores. He was immediately reprimanded for these comments by the Supreme Court for interference in Colombian internal affairs.
However, according to a cable dated November 13, 2009, Brownfiled privately received the backing of the then-Defense Minister Gabriel Silva in a meeting between the two, with Silva commenting how he needed displays of public support if he was to uncover corruption within the armed forces.
In 2008 a military tribunal found Bacci guilty of receiving $115,000 for selling the coordinates of Navy patrols to drug traffickers, in order for the traffickers to be able to avoid authorities and safely transport drugs out of Colombia. Bacci had requested a civil hearing before the Supreme Court in order to try to prove his innocence.
Brownfield notes in the cable how events turned in favor of Arango when a new prosecutor was assigned to the case by the acting Prosecutor General Guillermo Mendoza Diago. The prosecutor instantly accused Navy Commander Guillermo Barrera of mounting a campaign to discredit Arango by positing false accusations against him and dismissed several significant pieces of evidence from sources against Arango due to their contact with the DEA and CIA.
Brownfiled commented in the cable that he found these particular developments “disturbing,” and that they represented a “serious setback for the Colombian justice system.”
Arango was eventually acquitted on December 3, 2009, on the grounds that there was a lack of evidence. Brownfield referred to the event as an “expected yet troubling development,” and cautioned what its implications could be with regards to creating a culture of immunity among senior ranking officials in Colombian armed forces.