Four members of Colombia’s army, one retired colonel and four contractors were arrested in Medellin on Tuesday for allegedly handing out gun licenses in exchange for bribes.
The arrests add another chapter to a growing corruption scandal the army has sunk into after President Ivan Duque promoted a number of questionable generals in what ought to have been a protocolary change of command.
Among the detainees is the 4th Brigade’s former maintenance chief, Colonel Harold Felipe Paez, who worked under former 4th Brigade commander General Jorge Romero, whose early retirement was announced by Defense Minister Guillermo Botero last week.
Romero, who is also investigated for the alleged embezzlement of $300,000 (COP1 billion), allegedly formed a corruption ring with Tuesday’s detainees when he was commanding the military unit between 2015 and 2017,
According to local media, the sacked general and his co-conspirators allegedly traded off gun licenses for bribes without the due diligence.
According to local television station Medellin, some of these licenses would have been given to leaders of local crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado.
More bad news for Botero
The latest arrests follow the resignation of five top generals and the transfer of two in just one month. Another general could be called to court soon after he was caught escorting a drug lord out of Bogota.
The corruption in the licensing of firearms comes half a year after President Ivan Duque, under pressure from powerful large landowners, loosened the country’s gun ban.
The controversial decision to allow military officers decided who gets to own a gun and who does not is now becoming an issue again, because apparently this system was all but vulnerable to corruption.
Especially in Medellin, where homicides have been going up for years, this is an issue because of the local security forces’ history of rampant corruption and ties to illegal armed groups.
The 4th Brigade’s dodgy history
The 4th Brigade has long-standing ties with La Oficina that was formed while legendary crime lord “Don Berna” helped the military and the National Police to hunt down and kill late drug lord Pablo Escobar in 1993 as part of paramilitary group “Los Pepes.”
Since then, allegations about the ties between the military unit, the Medellin Police Department, Berna and his paramilitary associates have reemerged regularly.
Former Army commander Mario Montoya carried out military operations with paramilitary units
Now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC, that worked together with Berna, had their main accounting office at a parking lot right next to the 4th Brigade until they were discovered by prosecution officers in 1998.
Multiple former AUC commanders have testified that former National Army commander General Mario Montoya was on La Oficina’s payroll in 2002 when the then-4th Brigade commander and Berna jointly carried our military operations in Medellin.