(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Governor of Chocó Province, Ariel Palacios, has only been in office 115 days, and he is the first of the Governors elected last year to be temporarily removed from his post, charged with serious irregularities in the management of resources that are to used to confront the coronavirus emergency.

The Inspector General’s Office has already suspended the Mayor of Calarcá in Quindió Province, Luis Alberto Balsero, for a contract worth millions that he signed in the midst of the emergency.

Now, Governor Palacios has also been suspended for three months by the control agency, and that decision is just the tip of the iceberg in a collection of criminal, fiscal, and disciplinary actions that will end up entangling various governors and officials of public agencies at all levels.

The Governor of Chocó Province took part in the signing of a contract for two billion pesos (slightly less than USD 500,000) that, because of the coronavirus, was to be used for education expenses and informational campaigns, because the Province needed resources to care for patients and obtain protective equipment for the doctors.

The Inspector General’s Office found that he might be committing to the signature of new contracts and therefore notified President Iván Duque of his suspension. In the investigation, they found that the entity they contracted with did not meet the standards in the bidding process and that the work contracted for was “not for an urgent activity and was not related to the emergency.”

And even though Palacios is the first governor to be sanctioned, there is already a long line of functionaries that are going to be summoned to explain themselves and about whom there are open investigations. The Attorney General’s Office has filed charges against the governors of Vichada, Arauca, Magdalena, and San Andrés Provinces, and is at the point of opening criminal investigations against another three provincial governors.

At this time the Inspector General’s Office is pursuing 24 disciplinary cases against 14 governors, more than 70 cases in 56 municipalities, and 24 actions related to national agencies for irregularities in contracting and cost overruns connected to the emergency.

In the investigations by the three entities we see names we are accustomed to seeing, such as the Governor of Arauca, Facundo Castillo, and five of his officials, who are being investigated for two contracts: one of them is for artistic activities and events in the midst of the pandemic, at a cost of 570 million pesos (about USD 142,000) and the other is for overcharges in the markets where they found, among other things, cans of tuna costing 20,000 pesos (just under USD 5.00).

The Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, said that they had held 16 meetings where they exchanged information among the three entities and that up to now, they have found concerns with 56 contracts averaging 136,000 million pesos (roughly USD 33,800,000) each that are on the radar of the authorities. “This isn’t over; it’s just beginning; we are not going to permit one single peso belonging to the citizens to be wasted,” emphasized the Attorney General.

In the file, we find the Mayor’s Office in Socorro, Santander Province, with two contracts for 325 million pesos (about USD 80,000) that will show overcharges. The first was given to a provider who created his business 30 days earlier. The second contract was with that provider’s wife. Likewise, in the Mayor’s Office in Armenia there appears a contract for 300 million pesos (roughly USD 74,400) for services of a restaurant where “there had been a violation of transparency principles.”

“There is an avalanche of corrupt acts,” said the Inspector General, Fernando Carrillo.

One of the most complex cases is one in the Governor’s Office in César Province. They are investigating 40 contracts furnished to foundations with social goals distinct from those required in the bidding documents, and they are committing more than 14,000 million pesos (roughly USD 3,475,000) to them. In the file, there appear two deputies who have been using the assistance funds to “do politics”.

The Comptroller’s Office is also examining 17,486 contracts at the national level that are related to the emergency. Fifty cases are being analyzed and of those, 21 special actions have been commenced in the Unit for Immediate Reaction.

The Comptroller, Carlos Felipe Córdoba, indicated that there are four contracts from the Valle del Cauca Governor’s Office with alleged overcharges. One of them is in the amount of 2,330 million pesos (about USD 580,000) for packages of food for elderly adults. It appears to have overcharges of 31 per cent.

Investigation at the Ministry of Agriculture

The Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation of alleged irregularities in the management of resources by the Fund for the Financing of the Agricultural Sector (Finagro is the Spanish acronym.)

In the file assigned to the prosecutor before the Supreme Court, we see the Minister of Agriculture, Rodolfo Enrique Zea Navarro, a director of Finagro and an official from the National Planning Department.

The investigation was begun with information turned over by the Comptroller’s Office, questioning why “large agro-industrial companies and merchants”, concentrated in Bogotá, received credit that been reserved for assistance to people affected by the emergency.

After the warning, the firms decided to return the loaned funds, valued at 33,000 million pesos (slightly more than USD 8,000,000).

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