By Karen Vanessa Quintero Martínez, EL ESPECTADOR, October 3, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The fact that the school children in this province consumed the meat of horses and burros without knowing it has triggered the indignation of the whole country. Now the Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether or not the officials of the School Lunch Program (PAE in Spanish) knew what they were distributing and how many more citizens were consuming the adulterated products.

After the prosecutors revealed that the merchant Fernando Trujillo was selling horse meat and burro meat to those who run the School Lunch Program (PAE) in Bucaramanga and Santander, and that the meat contained chemicals and was documented falsely, the indignation of the community was aroused.  The PTA and even the agency requested that the names of the businesses involved be made public, so as to establish which schools had received that meat between May of 2018 and September of 2019. The contracts were awarded during the administration of Governor Didier Tavera. He is already being investigated for allegedly swindling the PAE in 2016, and the ones who were awarded the contracts are long-timers in the school food business in the province.

According to the investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, what Fernando Trujillo managed to do was a complete maze that involved phony papers, “stickers” for selling a product that was not genuine and, along with that, sophisticated logistics for transporting the animals from the Atlantic Coast to a slaughterhouse in Santander. The scheme that left him with more than 500 million pesos (about USD $130,000) was under the radar of the investigating agency that put together the evidence, step by step, of the venture by this merchant from Santander who, apparently sold the horse meat and the burro meat not just to the School Lunch agency, but also to butchers around the province. EL ESPECTADOR has found out the details of the investigation that’s going on now.

Trujillo apparently bought the burros and the horses, very sick or already dead, in La Guajira, Córdoba, and César Provinces. From there he transported them to Bucaramanga without papers or with phony documentation and they were slaughtered in the Villa Rosa horse slaughterhouse (Piedecuesta). According to the prosecutors, that place is the only slaughterhouse in Santander that is licensed to slaughter and market horsemeat and then only when the consumer is told what they are buying. The prosecutors’ calculations estimate that alias El Padrino or El Gemelo, as Trujillo is known, sold between 2,000 and 2,500 kilograms of that meat to the School Lunch agency, and a source in the Attorney General’s Office told this paper that those who bought it were Nutrimos and the temporary joint venture Siempre Adelante.

It looks as if they did it through an intermediary: Global Trade Solutions. Even though the prosecutors have not cited any representative of those businesses, the investigators want to establish whether those contractors actually knew what they were buying.However, during Trujillo’s charging hearing, the prosecutor in the case made clear that El Padrino still had a similar business that was deceiving his intermediary. According to the Comptroller’s Office, it was actually Invima (Colombia’s Food and Drug Administration) and the Sijin (Intelligence Agency of Bogotá’s Metropolitan Police) that could establish which kind of meat the officials of the School Lunch were getting, and that the only they thing they did was distribute it in various schools in the province. Trujillo had made sure that detecting it would be difficult, by using chemicals to tenderize the meat.

In several of the telephone calls that the prosecutors were able to intercept, the swindle became clear. The order that Trujillo gave them was to use citrosan and bifulsite of sodium to tenderize the meat and so there would be no doubt that it was beef. The first of those drugs is a chemical that is usually used as a disinfectant, fungicide, or bactericide. And the second is another chemical, also known as monosodic salt. It’s used by the food industry as a preservative. The Attorney General’s Office revealed that Trujillo marketed the adulterated meat to beef suppliers in Bucaramanga: Carírisan, owned by Orlando Lizcano and Javier Lizcano, and Carnes Zeus, owned by Deisy Galvis and Franklin Leguizamón. According to the investigation, both of them knew what kind of meat they were selling.

Besides tenderizing the meat, those two chemicals gave the meat a reddish color. And if that weren’t all, El Padrino marketed the food, already adulterated, in vacuum packing, so that the buyer could not inspect the real texture of the product. And, to top it off, he pasted stickers with the names of businesses that only marketed beef that came from the refrigerators of Río Frío and Vijagual. The prosecutors calculated that Trujillo slaughtered 30 horses every week and that the employees of one of the meat suppliers had helped him with the maze of crime. Even though neither Adelante nor Nutrimos supply the PAE in the capital of Santander, the Attorney General’s Office states that the Santo Ángel de Bucaramanga school also received some of the adulterated meat.

EL ESPECTADOR talked withBlanca Patricia Mantilla, Director of the Proinapsa Institute at the Industrial University of Santander. She has been responsible for auditing the PAE in Bucaramanga since 2019. She said that they have no record of purchases from Sr. Fernando Trujillo. And that they have also carried out studies that allow them to conclude that the foods were suitable for human consumption. Regardless of that audit, the Attorney General’s Office has evidence that in March of 2019 there was a transaction between Trujillo and the owners of Carnes Zeus for the sale of 1,200 kilograms of horse and burro meat. The purchaser was an unidentified person and the Mayor’s Office in Bucaramanga, which would imply that Trujillo not only swindled the PAE, but he also swindled the municipal authorities.

The Old-Timers Are Known to the PAE

The “old-timers” of the PAE in Santander have been, since 2017, the business owners behind the temporary joint venture Siempre Adelante. That is the one that, according to the prosecutors, had distributed the horse and burro meat. In 2019 it consisted of Eco Servir SAS, Eco Catering SAS, and Le & Ve Alimentos Macsol SAS. Eco Servir was founded in 2010 and became one of the most powerful companies in supplying food and cleaning services in health centers, with several contracts in the public sector. In 2017, it started to figure in the PAE’s in different municipalities in Santander. In fact, last year, Eco Servir SAS also took part in the temporary joint venture Alianza Girón, which  attracted the attention of the Transparency Committee for Santander (CTS in Spanish), which oversees the program.

The CTS found some apparent irregularities in this consortium, which was also part of Logistica Institucional Ultramatic Limited, which furnishes laundry and dry cleaning services. At that time, the CTS filed a complaint alleging that it was not clear why a business dedicated to those cleaning services would be dedicated to distribution of school lunches. And that, in addition, Eco Servir, which also had the mission of providing cleaning and disinfection services in hospitals, was in the same temporary joint venture with companies doing business with the PAE. Eduardo Duarte, representative of that consortium and others, explained to this newspaper that such a suspicion was unfounded.

For Duarte, it’s clear that Logistica Institutional Ultramatic Limited is familiar with logistics services and that Eco Servir has experience in handling food in hospitals. For the venture’s spokesman, who also acts as the representative of Siempre Adelante, the consortium has nothing to do with the delivery of horse and burro meat, because it has been rigorous in its acquisition procedures. They even forwarded a petition requesting the names of those involved, so as to avoid generalizations. In addition to being the “old-timers” in the businesses that deal with the PAE, the people behind those companies made a successful entry into the world of politics in last year’s regional elections.

Eco Servir is owned by husband and wife Carlos Duarte Valenzuela and Natalia Badillo Navarro, who had supported—though not in a leadership role—the candidates of the Gente Valiente group: Rubiela Acevedo Monsalve, who was in the Conservative Party, but did not win, but got 9,000 votes, and Carlos Barajas, in the Alianza Verde Party, who did win a seat on the Bucaramanga City Council. A source in the school lunch supply trade association told LA SILLA VACÍA that the business owners insisted that they could produce between 10,000 and 15,000 votes. They even, as the investigative journalists explained during the campaign of the Mayor-elect, Juan Carlos Cárdenas, that Carlos Duarte had organized more than 40 meetings, but Cárdenas didn’t attend most of them. This annoyed Duarte, who threatened to walk out with his 10,000 votes.

Once Cárdenas was elected, Natalia Badillo participated in his transition committee, according to LA SILLA VACÍA. They also established that Badillo and Duarte are also founders of Eco Catering (now Superlogistica Bga SAS) together with Sergio Delgado, who had been a partner of Germán Trujillo, convicted of swindling the PAE in 2016. With the Mayor on board, the couple supported the candidate elected Governor, Mauricio Aguilár. Last March Aguilár had been awarded a contract for school food service worth more than 26 million pesos (about USD $6,800). The owner of that business is the temporary joint venture Siempre Adelante S3, made up of the company belonging to Duarte and Badillo, Eco Servir SAS, and by MCD and Company SAS and Le &Ve Alimentos Macsol SAS.

While the Attorney General’s Office continues to bolster its investigation with new evidence and indications that the horse meat and burro meat were sold to other providers, different from the PAE officials, the Comptroller’s Office will be seeking to be named a victim of Fernando Trujillo’s swindle. He has pleaded not guilty of the crimes of adulterating food and selling it, falsification of documents, and procedural fraud. The indignation caused by the fact that the children of Santander ended up consuming this kind of meat is starting to take new directions, because the investigations by the authorities are proving that even the Bucaramanga Mayor’s Office bought the products. The scandal is just getting under way.

Editor’s note:  In the first version of this article, there was a reference to the PAE officials having bought the adulterated meat through an intermediary, Global Trade Solutions. The phrase was modified to make clear that the details of that company are not yet part of the investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which now knows who the purchasers were.

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