Inspector General opens investigation into fake displacement claims

Colombia’s Inspector General orders an investigation into public officials who may have helped farmers accused of faking displacement, reported local media Monday.

The inquiry will look at whether employees of the government’s Social Action fund department or the Institute for Rural Development (Incoder) facilitated illegitimate compensation claims from members of the Las Pavas community, who are accused of lying about being forced off land by paramilitaries in order to get rights to an estate.

The community and the NGOs which supported it are accused of staging a set-up to defraud the Colombian state, following an admission from a man claiming to be part of the Las Pavas group that he lied in his testimony during a land forfeiture process earlier last year.

The case is complicated, as the last time the farmers were removed from the land (in 2009) it was by Colombian riot police, not by paramilitaries. The eviction followed a court order obtained by palm oil company Daabon, who had bought the land from its previous owner, Jesus Emilio Escobar, Pablo Escobar’s uncle.

At the time, the community were trying to gain official rights to the land through the forfeiture process being implemented by Incoder, the organization which oversees land restitution. Their basis for the forfeiture claim was alleged abandonment of the land by Escobar – though they do also claim to have been displaced by paramilitaries several times in the 15 years prior to this abandonment.

Preliminary investigations have concluded that there were inconsistencies in the community’s different accounts of what had happened, and that some of those who appeared on the Incoder list of displaced people had been born and raised in other locations.

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