Liberation of Drug Trafficking FARC Leader Causes Outcry in Colombia

Despite overwhelming evidence of drug trafficking by FARC leader Jesus Santrich, Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace ordered that he may not be extradited, and will now be freed from prison.

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Colombia’s Attorney General has resigned in outrage over the liberation of a top FARC drug trafficker, Jesus Santrich (Flickr).

By Andres Fernandez

The controversial decision to prevent the extradition of Jesus Santrich, a leader of Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group, and immediately ask for his release, has sparked virulent reaction in Colombia. Most importantly, it prompted the indignant resignation of the Attorney General of Colombia, Néstor Humberto Martínez.

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Colombia’s attorney general and assistant attorney general resign and ask for mass mobilization

Upon learning of the JEP (Special Judicial Entity for Peace’s) decision not to extradite, and subsequently release Jesus Santrich, the attorney general and his deputy prosecutor, María Paulina Riveros, resigned their positions. This decision represents a reversal at the judicial level, where even the Odebrecht investigation had not caused such uproar.

Martinez, through a statement, said that the decision of the JEP represents a “challenge” to the current legal order.

“I can not endorse this challenge to the legal order; my conscience and my devotion prevent me from doing so, so I have submitted my resignation as attorney general of the nation,” he said during a press conference.

He went further by inviting Colombians to mobilize in the streets against the guarantee of non-extradition of the guerrilla leader.

There is abundant evidence demonstrating that Santrich continued to traffic cocaine, after participating in the peace process.

He called on the people, “to mobilize with determination for the restoration of legality in Colombia in the defense of peace and the framework of justice that exudes confidence and, particularly, for all the victims of the conflict.”

Martinez announced that Colombian President Ivan Duque, who was in Medellin chairing a security council, had decided to take a flight back to Bogota to take charge of the case, due to the judicial crisis represented by the resignation of Martinez and his deputy prosecutor.

Martinez alleges that the decision of the JEP “shatters international collaboration, disregards the obligations of Colombia with respect to international treaties, openly challenges the Constitution, and most seriously: destroys the wall that built the peace agreement between reintegration and drug trafficking.”

The PanAm Post spoke with lawyer Sergio Held, who commented that the decision on the part of the JEP is truly unfortunate.

What should have been a simple notarial process by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, validating the dates and facts that appear in the Indictment of the Court of the Southern District of New York, became a legal debate that has put in check the rule of law in the country.

He also stated that “the application of the evidence from the Colombian justice system to a pending case in the United States was not appropriate. The JEP exceeded its legal powers by interpreting the norm of the guarantee of non-extradition, in a manner favorable to a member of the dismantled narco-terrorist organization, the FARC,” he concluded.

However, the Attorney General’s Office ruled that it will appeal the ruling, since it considers that the case should continue in Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice and not in the JEP. In addition, the evidence provided by the United States enjoy the “presumption of legality.”

A predictable decision

Today, in one of the most important decisions it has taken in its existence, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), through a 148-page decision, decided to order not only the freedom of the guerrilla leader and deny his extradition to the United States, but order the magistrates who are part of the Review Section to investigate officials of the Prosecutor’s Office for having committed possible irregularities during the collection of evidence.

The arguments between the Attorney General’s office and the JEP showed that a decision of this type was expected, since on several occasions both institutions confronted each other with regard to determining the facts in Santrich’s drug trafficking case. This discussion escalated to the Constitutional Court, which decided that the power to define whether the commission of the crime occurred before December 1, 2016 or after this date, would be the jurisdiction of the JEP. If the commission of the offense was before this date it would be the responsibility of the JEP and if not, the investigation and trial would pass through the ordinary courts, with the Prosecutor’s Office accusing and investigating.

Finally, the JEP resolved the dispute by arguing that it was not possible to prove that the crime attributed to Santrich was committed after the signing of the Peace Agreement (December 1, 2016).

“The Department of Justice of the United States of America did not forward the requested evidence since the telephone intercepts from another case sent to the JEP by the Prosecutor’s Office did not reveal the conduct attributed to Hernández Solarte in the extradition request,” stated the president of the judicial Review Section, Jesús Ángel Bobadilla.

Although the JEP argued that there was no conclusive evidence to “evaluate the conduct or establish the precise date on which it took place,” the prosecutor denied that version and was vehement in pointing out that the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office was “conclusive” and “unequivocal.”

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