A key hearing over one of the most devastating corruption cases in Colombian history was suspended on Wednesday after the court failed to establish a video link with the extradited key witness.
A Bogota court was to hear the prosecution’s extradited former anti-corruption czar, Gustavo Moreno, but was forced to suspend the last-minute hearing because his request to witness proceedings via videolink had not been submitted in time.
The hearing was supposed to decide whether to grant Moreno extra time to testify before the court as part of a plea deal he agreed to in May 2018 that was set to expire on Tuesday.
Despite being the key witness, the former prosecutor has yet to be called to testify against any of the powerful suspects in the so-called Toga Cartel.
Oops, the video link
Moreno has been extradited to the US and is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for conspiring to commit corruption offenses. He is being held in Riverside prison, North Carolina.
Meanwhile in Colombia, prosecution investigations are supposedly ongoing but apparently without involving the key witness in one of the country’s most devastating corruption scandals.
Moreno contacted the Colombian justice system multiple times, requesting last month that “everything possible is done to ensure my virtual presence” before the key witness’ time limit to testify expires.
According to the judge presiding Tuesday’s hearing, his office requested US authorities for a video connection on June 19 only to learn that “according to the conventions of judicial cooperation, this type of request ought to submitted three months in advance.”
Because the court failed to connect to the US, Moreno’s hearing was rescheduled for October 2.
The court asked the prosecution to extend the period in which Moreno can comply with his part of the plea bargain to accommodate for the unforeseen delay.
The plea deal
In exchange for reduced criminal charges, Moreno agreed to testify against Supreme Court magistrates, prosecution officials and Congressmen allegedly involved in the corruption of justice through bribery at the highest possible level.
According to Moreno, he has yet to be called to testify in the case against any of the suspects.
Trying to speed up the process, Moreno sent a letter to president Duque and Inspector General Fernando Carrillo in April, warning of the consequences of the collapse of his plea deal, saying “if the suspension of penal action against me is not extended… my declarations and testimony will be useless, meaning that any judicial decisions made as a result of this investigation could be annulled.”
Moreno and the Toga Cartel
The toga cartel is the name given to a 2017 scandal which uncovered the systematic bribery of Supreme Court judges by congressmen.
Moreno was one of the key players, allegedly mediating between Supreme Court magistrates and suspects and who sought to bribe their way out of legal action.
The scandal has already claimed several high-profile casualties, including former Supreme Court president Francisco Ricaurte, who is currently in jail over his alleged involvement.
Moreno himself was arrested after the DEA caught Moreno red-handed accepting $10,000 in bribes from the former Governor of Cordoba, Alejandro Lyons, who stands accused of a range of crimes.