By Paola Herrera, CAMBIOColombia, November 3, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Iván Duque administration allowed corruption in connection with the properties seized from the mafia in Colombia. And not only with the real estate seized in confiscation proceedings, which are administered by the Special Assets Society (SAE), but also with those being held by the Fund for Victims Reparation.

What has been discovered until now is only the tip of the iceberg of the conduct by which a few were enriched, those who could count on the aid and complicity of public officials, politicians, and very powerful people. The mafiosos were able to retrieve the properties that had been taken away from them, and the previous administration did nothing to avoid that; on the contrary, they helped them.

A couple of weeks ago, President Gustavo Petro advised that after looking under the carpet of the SAE, there was evidence that we are seeing one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of our country. Added to that now, is what was discovered inside the fund that administers confiscated properties of paramilitaries and drug traffickers, among others, for the purpose of furnishing reparations to the victims of Colombia’s conflict.

Preliminary investigations reveal that at least 43 properties under the control of this fund, which depends on the Victims Unit, were put up to be rented out with some rentals between 4,000 Colombian pesos (roughly USD $1 at today’s exchange rate) and 100,000 pesos (roughly USD $20 at today’s exchange rate). Yes, 43 lots, ranches, and residences that had belonged to the mafia were put up for rent at prices that never approached their fair market value.

It’s incredible that officials of the Victims Unit in the previous administration never became aware of what was going on. Although just one single person with an Excel managed the information on the properties that the fund for reparations was administering, they never caught on that there were properties being rented at less than one dollar.

So far, the new administration has found that, of the 2,400 real and personal properties managed by the fund, 900 show irregularities of price, for the way they were being awarded, for being—in some cases—in the hands of the same person, or for owing money to the agency.

To be more precise, in none of the cases are the properties making money, and the backlog is so great that the new Director of the agency says that it would take 60 years to provide reparations for the victims, even though the money from beneficial ownership of these properties belongs to them.

But that’s not all. In the investigations being carried out by the new administration, it was also discovered that there are members of 13 families working at the fund. There are 31 people that are of those core groups, most of them brothers, that are now managing the agency in the high style of a dynasty.

The irregularities don’t stop at the value of the properties or the nepotism of the fortunate families that work there. Besides that, it turns out that there was a contractor that was pocketing the rental income of some of the properties being administered, turning the victims of the conflict into victims of the shameless corruption in their supposed reparation.

The managers of the agency have now identified the names of the people that are involved and that even held management positions at the agency. That information is now in the hands of the authorities and it is hoped that they are doing the necessary investigations.

It’s also hoped that they act in the case of the complaints in the SAE, where irregularities have been found in more than 16,000 pieces of real estate, out of the 28,343 that are in the SAE inventory.

The Comptroller’s Office has already spotlighted the scandal and showed that more than half of the properties administered by SAE (57.7 percent) don’t have complete information to determine their real value, generating fiscal risks, as well as the risk of corruption.

But also, there is failure to comply with internal regulations for the trustees, who are those people in charge of looking after the properties. That has allowed a large amount of property to be concentrated in the hands of the same administrator, which is prohibited by law.

This column has learned that one of the cases the SAE is investigating is an asset forfeiture operation that was carried out this year in the departments of Córdoba and Atlántico. The Attorney General’s Office seized more than 1,600 million pesos (roughly USD $322,000 at today’s rates) that was in the power of the mafia.

Nevertheless, in record time, that’s to say, only two hours after the operation, the SAE designated the trustees in charge of administering the money that had been confiscated, and those persons, without even verifying the inventory that the judicial institution had registered, took possession of the funds immediately with the order in hand.

Later, in the SAE reports on seized financial assets, they found that those trustees had only reported a little more than 300 million pesos (roughly USD $60,000 at today’s rates). What happened to the other 1,300,000 million pesos (roughly USD $261,000)?. Did SAE never verify how much money the Attorney General’s Office had confiscated?

That is only one of the modus operandi that are being uncovered in the inside of this agency. Like the case just mentioned, there are many others where money has disappeared or, still worse, property and land that is being left in the hands of the Special Assets Society.

It’s urgent that the authorities intervene in this matter and discover this instant those responsible for these events in the SAE and the Victims Unit. Everything that the previous administration has done with these two agencies has a really bad smell, and it’s high time to put a stop to a situation where the mafias, thanks to corrupt officials, are up to their old tricks in Colombia.

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