Authorities have prevented a “cartel of lawyers” from siphoning $253.8 million from the national teacher’s pensions fund, local media reported Monday.
, through hundreds of irregular court decisions in the northwest department of Cordoba.
Colombia’s Ministries of Finance and Education and its Legal Defense Agency said the scheme, in which lawyers in the northwestern department of Cordoba embezzled money with the help of “irregular court decisions,” threatened pension payments to the country’s 130,000 teachers, according to a government statement released Monday.
“This would have been a second version of Foncolpuertos if we did not act,” said Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo, in reference to a 2008 government pension corruption scandal, local media reported.
The agencies took “protective actions to prevent the fraudulent liquidation of pensions” after a whistleblower alerted authorities to 857 “irregular” decisions made by courts in Lorica, Planeta Rica and Chin.
The alleged questionable decisions involved the adjustment and approval of pension payments to teachers who do not qualify and to non-teachers.
None of the decisions had received the required final approval, so the transactions were pending.
“This is a marked pattern of embezzlement,” Legal Defense Agency director Fernando Carrillo Florez said in the statement.
If the plan had been successful, it would have drained the equivalent of two months pensions payments to every teacher across Colombia.
Judges in Bogota will take over the irregular court cases under Colombia’s anti-corruption statute, according to the joint statement.
The prosecution and the Supreme Judiciary Council have agreed to work together in investigating and initiating disciplinary proceedings.
“The government is committed to all the authorities to strengthen the legal defense of the state and protect public resources,” concluded the statement.