Colombia’s outgoing Comptroller General has fled her country, claiming she is facing trumped up charges over alleged irregularities during her term as the country’s highest fiscal watchdog.
Morelli was due to appear in court on Thursday 4 September for corruption charges over irregularities concerning the selling of two government office buildings and the renting of current offices during her tenure as Comptroller General.
She is facing crimes of embezzlement, approving contracts without the proper legal requirements, false public documents, and wrongful interest in signing contracts to the tune of $41 million.
Starting in 2011, Morelli allegedly sold two old office buildings in Bogota being used by the Comptroller General’s Office for less than 40% of the buildings’ market value. The comptroller then proceeded to rent a new building and buy everything from flooring, doors, fire systems, couches, and cabinets, to air conditioning.
The two buildings were valued at a combined $18.7 million but were sold at about $7 million; a difference of approximately $11.7 million. Between the selling of the two buildings, which Morelli said were unfit to work in, and the renting and upkeep of the new one, there was revealed some $40.6 million in irregularities with rent being $1.4 million per month beginning in 2012.
Following his election in Colombia’s Congress last month, incoming Comptroller General Edgardo Maya announced the purchase of a $150 million office building.
The former Comptroller General has maintained that these are trumped up charges against her to divert attention from involvement in a healthcare corruption scandal of Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. Morelli led investigations about payments received by Montealegre by a controversial and now-seized health insurance provider.
According to Morelli, the current Prosecutor General continued to receive money from SaludCoop, a so-called EPS that was repossessed by the government in 2011 after media and authorities found out it had embezzled millions of dollars meant to pay its clients’ healthcare and had spent health funds to build golf courses abroad.
SaludCoop is one of dozens of Colombian health insurance companies investigated for defrauding clients and embezzling billions of dollars in health care funds and failing to pay hospitals which had pushed dozens of hospitals throughout the country to the verge of bankruptcy.
Additionally, the company was accused of constructing its own medical centers while the purpose of the health insurance companies was to finance hospitals, not to compete with them. To make matters worse, opposition Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo (Democratic Pole) revealed the company had been charging too much for medication and treatments.
Montealegre was the health insurer’s legal adviser during the time the company was carrying out all kinds of alleged illegal activity. Morelli convicted SaludCoop for fraud in 2013, two years after the government took control of the company.
The Comptroller General has accused Montealegre of continuing to receive money from the company that defrauded millions of Colombians after taking office as prosecutor general in 2011 and after the company got in legal trouble over its financial malfeasance.
Montealegre is not the only prominent Colombian in trouble over the allegedly corrupt EPS; The Comptroller General. According to press reports, the wife of former Finance Minister Sergio Diaz-Granados was on the payroll of the disgraced company.
This ongoing spat has involved finger pointing from both sides.
The prosecutor general in turn accused Morelli of corruption, claiming there had been irregularities when the Comptroller General’s Office purchased a new main office for the country’s main financial watchdog.
These alleged irregularities will now become criminal charges.
However, Morelli hit back immediately and recused deputy Prosecutor General and his team for bias and illegally leaking classified documents related to the case to the media.
The ex-comptroller general is not the first Colombian official to flee the country. The country’s former intelligence director, a former agriculture minister and the former peace commissioner are also wanted on corruption allegations or convictions.