The United States vs Colombia’s chief prosecutor

Former Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez (Image: Prosecutor General's Office)

Chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez became one of the United States’ most reliable allies in Colombia after two American probes that virtually destroyed his credibility.

Strike 1 – Odebrecht

The first blow was dealt in December 2016 when the US Justice Department announced that Colombian officials and politicians had received bribes from Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht between 2009 and 2014.

The claim came almost nine months after a Brazilian judge convicted Odebrecht director Marcelo Odebrecht for his firm’s widespread corruption practices in his home country.

Colombia’s Supreme Court elected Martinez at the recommendation of President Juan Manuel Santos in June that year, three months after the sentencing of the Brazilian CEO.

The accusations almost immediately embarrassed the chief prosecutor, whose law firm had been hired by Odebrecht’s subsidiary in Colombia while it was bribing officials to obtain the Ruta del Sol II project.

He signed off on the construction of the corruption-ridden project in 2014 after Santos appointed him Minister for the Presidency.

Despite the apparent conflicts of interest, the chief prosecutor has refused to withdraw from the criminal investigation that has implicated some of Colombia’s most powerful politicians and corporations, including the president.

While the scandal in Brazil led to the jailing of dozens of politicians and government contractors, including former President Ignacio Lula da Silva, and in Peru triggered the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, in Colombia only one recipient of the alleged $27 million that was spent on bribes has been sentenced.

Strike 2 – The toga cartel

The second blow dealt by the Americans followed in June last year when the DEA tipped Martinez that his anti-corruption chief was bartering deals between allegedly corrupt congressmen and Supreme Court magistrates.

The scandal plummeted public confidence in Colombia’s already notoriously dysfunctional justice system and disgraced the chief prosecutor even further.

Martinez had hand-picked anti-corruption prosecutor Gustavo Moreno the year before despite the fact that the official as an attorney made a living defending corrupt politicians in court.

Martinez saw no conflict of interests in the fact that the magistrates who appointed him the year before were receiving money from the anti-corruption chief he personally appointed.

Congress, which is widely considered the most corrupt public institution in Colombia, also did not object to Martinez’ role in the investigation.

While multiple lawmakers were jailed, also in this case there has only been one conviction. Moreno plead guilty to corruption charges and is expected to be extradited to the US before the trials against his alleged co-conspirators begin.

Related posts

Wiretap scandal rocks Colombia’s government

Colombia’s prosecution raids president’s office amid growing tensions

Bogota court refuses to drop fraud and bribery charges against Uribe