General Flavio Buitrago was summoned by Colombia’s prosecutor general on March 23 to explain why he appeared on sound recordings with a former member of the now defunct Medellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar until his death in 1993. The prosecution is investigating whether the former security chief received gifts from drug trafficker Marco Antonio Gil, alias “El Papero,” and helped him to launder his assets.
The newspaper also reported that Buitrago’s wife, Elba Alieth Pulido, was a partner in one of El Papero’s front companies and that the couple bought a stake in land from neighbors who were close to El Papero.
Buitrago testified during a preliminary investigation by the Prosecutor General Tuesday, April 9 to justify his assets – approximately $540,000 – as part of the first stage of the investigation.
Buitrago reportedly gave details of three bank accounts – including one with the Bank of America – and documents relating to two houses and a farmhouse. He also filed proof of his income during his tenure as security chief for Uribe, a monthly salary of approximately $7,000.
Before testifying last week, Buitrago denied ties to drug traffickers and said he “trusted in God and Justice” to see him through. During his testimony, however, the former security chief admitted to some transactions, reported El Tiempo.
Buitrago claimed he met El Papero in August 1997, after the drug trafficker’s daughter was kidnapped.
“I was in charge of the hostage-rescue force, and he and his wife came to my office to tell me their daughter had been kidnapped,” the official explained and added that he remained in contact with El Papero throughout his daughter’s nine-month capture.
As a result of the kidnapping, the general also got to know businesswoman Ruth Marlen Herrera and her husband Henry Medina, who were close with El Papero.
“In 2000 we bought a house in Bogota and realized that the Medinas were our neighbors,” said Buitrago.
He claimed that in 2006, it was Marlen Herrera who suggested that his wife buy a stake in a mall being built in Villavicencio outside of Bogota, which they paid for in 17 installments. Buitrago presented a document from the construction firm Pedro Gomez y Cia, a reported leader on the Villavicencio project. The general said the firm’s support for the project gave him peace of mind.
Buitrago said that later in 2006, El Papero contacted him to discuss the kidnapping investigation. Buitrago and his wife asked El Papero for investment advice and he suggested a new mall being built by Pedro Gomez called, Amazonas. After attending a presentation in the offices of Pedro Gomez, Buitrago’s wife ended up with 30,000 shares of Constructora America (Construction America), the company created to manage the project. According to the prosecutor, the couple only invested $16,500 for the shares. The prosecutor also provided evidence that suggested that Buitrago’s wife ended her involvement in Constructora America after the company and El Papero appeared on the U.S. Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, also known as the Clinton List, which forbids companies operating in the U.S. from doing business with suspected drug traffickers and terrorists.
Buitrago ended his seven-hour questioning by addressing the claims of the confessed money launderer for El Papero, Jaime Dib Mor. Mor told Colombian and U.S. prosecutors that Buitrago gave him $700,000 belonging to El Papero to be laundered abroad.
“The $700,000 is a disgrace. The bandits should not be indulged for providing stories without evidence,” said Buitrago. The former security chief also presented his official itinerary for his trips abroad to the Prosecutor General.
“My wife is clean and honest. The evidence shows she made an investment in a prestigious construction company, like Pedro Gomez. And at this time, Gil [El Papero] did not have a record,” he concluded.
The Prosecutor General will decide over the next few days whether a formal investigation should be opened against Buitrago.
Buitrago is the second security chief of former President Alvaro Uribe to be investigated for links to drug trafficking. His predecessor, ex-General Mauricio Santoyo, is in prison in the U.S. for leaking information on counter-narcotics operations to drug traffickers.
- General Buitrago admite que su esposa fue socia del ‘Papero’ (El Tiempo)
- Lanzan en Bogota otros dos nuevos centros comerciales (El Tiempo)
- SDN Search (U.S. Treasury)