By Edinson Arley Bolaños, REVISTA RAYA, February 14, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
RAYA news magazine has learned of a video and millions of messages exchanged during 4 months by 2 colonels, a lawyer, and a Mexican agent in the attempt to entrap a Justice of the Peace Tribunal. There is evidence in the material we obtained that shows how Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez approved payment of $500,000 for the setup, and the desperation of the Mexican agent to finalize a meeting with a Justice, and the denial by prosecutor Carlos Bermeo of his minimal relevance inside the organization.
In the video, you can see a man with a Mexican accent who seems to be following a script, a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent, in an insistent manner, trying to reach a Justice in the JEP with the objective of involving him in corrupt acts in the case of the former commander of the FARC, Jesús Santrich. This was in order to discredit the peace tribunal with the argument that not extraditing the former guerrilla chieftain was part of a corrupt structure. “The legal system is not as vulnerable as you think,” says one WhatsApp message that the Mexican received during the operation.
This story began in April of 2018 with Santrich’s arrest, very much publicized by former Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez, who called it a great blow to the Peace Agreement signed by the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016. Hours after the operation, videos without audio and audios without context circulated in the media. Attorney General Martínez used them to explain as a reason for the arrest a supposed negotiation between the FARC, headed by Santrich, and the Sinaloa Cartel in México to send ten tons of cocaine to the United States.
After Santrich’s arrest, the first battle between the JEP and the Attorney General’s Office broke out in the Constitutional Court. A legal and media battle lasting several months to decide who had jurisdiction of the case. Meanwhile, days after the Santrich arrest, the JEP asked the Attorney General’s Office and the United States Justice Department for evidence to decide whether to approve or reject the request for extradition of the former guerrilla boss. Finally, the Court decided in favor of the JEP, but the evidence never arrived.
In December of 2018, nearly eight months after the arrest, the JEP still had not received the evidence it had requested. While Santrich was in custody in the La Picota prison in Bogotá, outside, in the cafés and hotels in the capital, the aforementioned Mexican was seeking attorneys who could guarantee a meeting with a Justice of the JEP. They promised two million dollars, allegedly to delay the extradition of Jesús Santrich, according to the text messages that this magazine has seen. It all had to be done without his contacts finding out that he was an agent of the DEA and that his real objective was to generate an effect on public opinion: he wanted the public to believe that those supposed Mexican partners of Santrich had corrupted the JEP.
The objective was not Bermeo, it was the Justices
According to the chats and testimony contained in the Attorney General’s file, on December 27, attorney Jaime Clavijo, who had been contacted by the Mexican, turned the business over to former Senator Luis Alberto Gil and his assistant, Orlando Villamizar. Hours later, Clavijo took the Mexican to Gil’s apartment where he introduced him under the name Gerardo Asaff, and in the role of attorney for Mexican business owners who had offered two million dollars for lobbying the JEP and delaying Santrich’s extradition case. The next day, the Mexican went back to Gil’s apartment, where they had breakfast and then went to the JW Marriot Hotel on 73rd Street. There, through Gil, the Mexican met the JEP prosecutor, Carlos Bermeo, for the first time.
In the afternoon of December 28, two Colombian Army Colonels appear in the story: Eduardo Ucros and Jamer Ocampo. Both retired officers from Santander, they began to pressure the Mexican, a DEA agent, to pay them the two million dollars, because for them the promise had been carried out with the introduction of prosecutor Bermeo. However, the Mexican refused because, according to him, his “father” had said that Bermeo wouldn’t do, because he didn’t have enough power within the JEP. There was a message that day that the Mexican sent to Clavijo that, likewise, was resent by Clavijo to Villamizar, Gil’s assistant, to keep the Mexican up to date on the demands and differences with the Mexican:
“Doctor, good afternoon, I’ll explain the following and it’s not a complaint: when I went to see the gentleman in the apartment, you told me that it was Magy (the Justice). It wasn’t. We are talking, everything’s OK, the gentleman promised that he would get us together with Magy. Yesterday they told me that what you have would be better. I went today and they came up with another different thing that I accepted, and I will take responsibility. My ‘papa’ says that will not do, that that person is already checked out and doesn’t have the power to do or decide anything, Doctor. I have the papers ready, when I got there to explain who I should meet with, my ‘papa’ told me to do it, with the consequences that you can imagine. You all have made some mistakes and I made one in agreeing, but we need someone with say-so and power inside that agency. I don’t know how you are going to be able to fix this and talk with that G. gentleman (Gil). I’m asking him to excuse me, but I get orders. Explain all this to the friends that are waiting for the funds . . .”
The ”friends” he refers to are the two Colonels, attorney Clavijo, and a civilian, Moises Ballesteros who ever since October of 2018 was helping to get the Justice Alejandro Ramelli, whom they chose as their target because he was from Santander like the majority of those involved in this intrigue, said one of the witnesses that took part in that effort. Ramelli, who, in spite of being a Justice in the JEP, had nothing to do with the Santrich case, was being located in a Christian church he attended in Bucaramanga.
A source in the JEP said that the Justice isn’t from Santander and was never connected with a church of that kind. The witness to the aforementioned events claimed that that surname was the objective in October of 2018.
The decision by the Mexican not to pay generated strong disagreements among the parties. Ballesteros warned him, through a series of text messages, that the Colonels Ucrós and Ocampo would divulge their true identities in the communications media, their photos, and videos of their meetings, to finalize the search for a Justice of the JEP. These chats were extracted from a long communication between Ballesteros and the Mexican:
“You and that f—-ing Colonel that you think is a piece of sh—- are making me tired, like you say. Understand me, whether you wait or not, there’s no option. If there’s an audio that you made you’re going to get into problems. Now you know, you little piece of sh—.”
“Buddy, it’s not me. I don’t get it. These people are f—-ing with all this.”
“Worth sh—- to me, and you know it. I’m warning you, it’s crazy.”
The conversation continued in bad language, and the Mexican asked Ballesteros to send him the information so he could believe it. In the next line, Ballesteros told him that “everything” he had from him and the Colonels was from intelligence, that they knew what they were doing and how to do it. He immediately sent a series of photos that the public would see two months later, on March 4, 2019, when journalist Gonzalo Guillén revealed one of them, the one of a man with a generous black beard and dark glasses like the airline pilots wear. It was the Mexican who had been introduced as Gerardo Assaf and who up to that moment had refused to pay the two million dollars because his “organization” still had not been benefited, because he wanted the meeting to be with a Justice.
On December 30, 2018, Villamizar shared with former Senator Gil a conversation he had had that same day with Gerardo Assaf, the Mexican. He warned Villamizar that he didn’t want any more to do with Clavijo, Ballesteros, and the two Colonels, and that instead they were going to work with Gil to get a Justice of the JEP to meet with him. However, Villamizar warned him that the justice system was not as vulnerable as he may have thought.
“Ask ‘sena’ (Senator Gil) for me that we work just the three of us, you and him and me. There’s an explanation for all of it, but Jaime was lying from the beginning; he told me that the one who organized everything was a friend of the Magy, who is Pastor of a foundation and other things, pure foolishness, and then when he met ‘sena’ he told me that he’s the one in charge. Afterwards Maime called me and he says, ‘we got the appointment with the Magy, and the one that appears at the appointment is someone else who has no authority,’ wrote the Mexican.
“All of that could have been avoided if he would have just showed his face . . . The justice system is not as vulnerable as some think,” Villamizar answered him.
That section demonstrates, in part, the role that the Mexican was playing in his role of agent provocateur for the DEA, pretending to be the son of a drug trafficker from the Sinaloa Cartel that was trying to delay Santrich’s extradition.
In the evening of that same December 30, the Mexican exchanged text messages with Villamizar, the personal assistant of former Senator Gil, in which the DEA agent’s panic about the insistence of the two Colonels that they would reveal their identity, photos, and passports was evident. That threat turned out to be revealing, because right away the Mexican clarified that that was impossible because he didn’t have a passport, or cards, or anything that could reveal who he was.
The operation to unmask the Mexican
The Mexican DEA agent’s worry also came to light when he wrote toVillamizar, desperately trying to find out if former Senator Gil had anything to do with the photos of his face that had been circulating among the men mixed up in this business. The truth was that the Colonels had at the same time a friend in the Police Intelligence Section (Sipol) in Bogotá. It was a Lieutenant named Florido with whom they went to former Senator Gil’s building and asked the watchman to let them see if the videos from the security camera had shown the face of the Mexican. They would have been registered when he used the elevator to go to the meeting on December 28. That was when they took the photos.
In the following chat, the Mexican exposes his worry about Villamizar:
“OK, So you don’t know if the Sena (former Senator Gil) has anything to do with this? What would be his object?
“We aren’t interested in the underworld. We’re interested in prominent actions and actions that imply the ability to manage an agency. The rest is for the lower class—Villamizaranswered.
“Got it, that’s what I was wondering.
“I don’t know anything. I inquired and he told me that a Colonel had requested images of entrances and he informed the Police why he had requested that. I think it was a Colonel from SIPOL that requested it. But I haven’t seen the images.
In the same conversation the Mexican even kept on insisting on his intention to verify that the former Senator had nothing to do with looking to discover what he looked like.
“What these people do with what they have is their responsibility; I don’t have anything against you or against Sena. But if these people that seem to be more than simple extortionists with these images are trying to do something else, I beg you don’t stick your nose into that, because that could make it complicated for us. Everybody is responsible for their own acts.”
“El Sena is worked because they have been pressuring him. He told me that last hight. They are almost telling him that they have received them and have manipulated them so that they threw out the rest of the people. That’s what he told me, Villamizarwarned.
The Mexican finally asked Villamizar to break off with the rest of the people. He gave him a new cell phone number and insisted that they keep going with the job. That said, the other people, the ones I call “caricatures of extortionists”, he said to pay them because it was thanks to them that he had met Villamizar and former Senator Gil.
After finalizing the exchange of text messages that Villamizar sent to former Senator Gil about his conversation with the Mexican, Gil warned him that he had to deal with an important situation that had come up on December 30:
“I haven’t read all of it. You are going to have to report that now Ucros (Colonel) has found me, because it looks as if Jaime (Clavijo) provided data about the apartment, and he gave me the photos they had downloaded.
Villamizar did as he was told. He informed the Mexican and they agreed that they would go ahead with the idea that had been proposed at the start: find a Justice of the JEP. In one of those messages where the negotiation was continuing, Villamizar told him:
“I already talked with him. The prosecutor that’s my friend has put together a friendly dinner for the first week with the prosecutors working on the investigation. He took the commitment seriously. The dinner will be the first week with the Mag. (Justice) and Dr. Francia, who is the lobbyist I met.
The DEA agentanswered this message, making clear that his supposed bosses in México wanted a Justice, even if he had no relation or role to play in the Santrich case; he was sure that that was what they wanted.
“Therefore I’m saying that I’m marking down the day of the 3rd to go ahead with this. The important thing is to give my clients what they want. They think that only a Justice would have the authority to decide, even if that’s not the case. They believe that and that’s all; it’s up to me to satisfy them.
The dispute with the Colonels, who continued to believe that the Mexican had double-crossed them, continued during the month of January 2019. In two ongoing messages, the DEA agent expressed it this way to Villamizar on January 3, 2019:
“They, the blonde and the Colonel are making it look as if it’s you and the Sena (former Senator Gil) that are doing all of this and making threats and the rest of it. I know that’s not true, but I need to have them read it so that later they will do me the favor of answering some concerns.
“That’s the only thing that’s going on and it’s complicating things, as I said, my “papá” still doesn’t know about that because it could open up a problem that I won’t be able to control.
At the conclusion of the last conversation Ballesteros had with the Mexican, Ballesteros made clear that he was getting out of the business, that he didn’t want his money and that he had had to leave the country because it looked as if there was going to be a big time scandal in Colombia. We tried to contact attorney Clavijo so he could tell us what he knows about the Mexican’s real identity, but Clavijo refused to talk to us. Of the two retired Colonels, Ocampo and Ucros, their location is unknown after they threatened the Mexican DEA agent.
On January 28, the JEP reported to the news media that the United States legal system had not sent the evidence it had requested for its decision in the Santrich case. On January 30, Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez held a meeting, as he related in his book, “The Two Faces of the Peace”, with the United States Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and other officials from the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. government. According to Martínez’ account, at the end of the meeting they talked about the request from the JEP. But Whitaker said that the letter or petition from the JEP requesting evidence in the Santrich case had never reached his office. The next day, Colombia’s Justice Ministry responded that the letter was sent by mail, but it got lost on the way to Panama.
After that event, it was clear that the letter had fallen into the hands of the Iván Duque administration. In spite of that, according to the video and the chats revealed here, the task of the Mexican DEA agent was to spread the story that the letter had gone missing at the hands of prosecutor Bermeo and the supposed “criminal organization” that he himself had been putting together around the search.
What the DEA agent really wanted
On February 13, the Mexican started to reappear on the scene, with an urgent message for Villamizar. He begged him to cancel the appointment coordinated for meeting with Bermeo, because pretty soon they were going to get the money. He said that “his papá” was taking charge. Once again, the Mexican alluded to “his papá” to refer to the boss of the Cartel or to his supposed “organization”, the one in charge of putting up the money. That’s what was registered in several continued messages that the Mexican sent to Villamizar:
“Sir, don’t cancel anything yet please—I was able to reach my ‘papá’. Please. I’m doing my job and it looks very probable that they will authorize me to give you the advance. I sent you these messages two hours ago. There’s hardly any signal here. Don’t cancel anything yet, my boss is in this, I’ll call you now, just a minute.
Simultaneously, and according to the version of a lawyer, some Mexicans were seeking a meeting in a hotel with Pilar Rueda, a Chief Assistant at the JEP. They intended to offer her two million dollars to intercede in the Santrich case. The contact and the meeting never took place and the events were denounced publicly by the Chief Assistant’s husband, Senator Iván Cepeda. At that time, even Jesús Santrich himself, from prison, by means of a hand-written letter, complained that some guards had come up to him to tell him that some Mexicans were making contact to offer two million dollars for a supposed escape plan.
The Mexican disappeared for a few days, but on February 25, he began trying to make the operation lawful, together with the Attorney General of Colombia. The agent Craig Michelin asked for $500,000 from the Attorney General’s Office, and Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez approved it with a resolution. According to the document, they were going after an ”international criminal organization dedicated to the sale of legal cases in Colombia and the sale of privileged information on judicial activities,” states the DEA memorandum.
The next day, the Mexican wrote to Villamizar to announce that he was about to arrive in Colombia. Supposedly, the DEA agent, or Asaff, as he was also called, was the pilot and he had his own plane:
“Sir, good morning, I’m confirming my arrival date, please mark it down when you get it. I’m just writing so you know we’re doing what we planned and what I told you is firm. Thanks. Today’s the day. I’ll let you know when I get the confirmation.
“OK, I’m in Bucaramanga, once I get your confirmation I’ll head for Bogotá. The team is just waiting for that”, Villamizar answered him.
“Many thanks, boss, I’m confirming it right now. Everything is firm on my part—no changes,” concluded the Mexican.
The trap is sprung
March 1, 2019 was the day selected for it all to come to a conclusion. The Mexican answered Villamizar with several messages that Villamizar re-sent to the cell phone of former Senator Gil to coordinate what would be the meeting at the Marriot Hotel, in northern Bogotá, with the prosecutor Bermeo. That day they turned over the two million dollars that the Mexican had been promising since December of 2018.
“I’m now with the Capi. He’s talking in the room with some people. He tells me that it’s going down now,” the Mexican wrote to Villamizar.
“It’s important to know it so we can let the Attorney General know,” former Senator Gil responded to Villamizar.
“Yes. Once the deal is all set, I’ll let him know immediately,” the Mexican replied.
“We’ll be waiting, I’m going to pass by close to where you are,” Gil concluded.
In the morning of the first day of March, former Senator Gil’s car traveled around the Marriot Hotel several times. At 10 in the morning, Villamizar was summoned to a room in the Hotel Artizan, some five blocks away from the Marriot. The Mexican and two undercover agents from the Attorney General’s Office, a man and a woman, that hardly took any part in the scene, as part of the Mexican organization that had put up the money. They didn’t say much. Their voices were recorded a few seconds when one of the agents, called Mafe, for example, answered that his “papá” would do the talking and assented to what the Mexican said: “Down below, in an SUV, we have a million and a half dollars, the rest of the money.”
A miniature camera, located in the night table, was supposed to record this other new piece, a 25-minute video of the entrapment of the Special Justice for Peace (JEP).
“Look, let me explain, here’s the money, this is the money, here’s 500, it’s all I can show you right now, I have a million five hundred more in the SUV, we have two million. OK, what’s the question, this is the question: that I can’t let you leave with the money unless I see this dude (Bermeo) because we don’t know if he’ll commit or not; but the money’s here. That’s the only question.
“Well, we made a deal, that I would stay with you.
“Yes, but Don Orlando, you have to understand this, you have to, Don Orlando, I can’t go along with what you’re telling me, nothing’s agreed, I did everything that I was supposed to do, everything to be able to let you have this little bit of money right here. Now, the part about you staying here as a guarantee, that, Don Orlando, that’s stupid, anybody can make the little phone call and bring you the rest.
The Mexican wanted Villamizar to accept his conditions, that he would get the USD $500,000 advance and not have to leave, and the prosecutor Bermeo would come in. However, he wasn’t able to get agreement, because the Mexican and the two agents from the Attorney General’s Office wanted to have the money secure. Villamizar was insisting that the prosecutor would not show up if the money wasn’t all there, meaning, the two million dollars that the Mexican had promised to deliver that day. Villamizar continued to be doubtful because, months ago, the Mexican had disappointed them when they presented the JEP prosecutor, and he turned it down because he had no authority; he wasn’t a Justice.
“No, I’m not going to change the rules of the game,” saidVillamizar.
“No, I’m not changing them. It has to do with my security too. Look, let’s do this, let’s talk about this: I’ll give you the money, you take it, no matter what bullshit,” answeredtheMexican.
“No, I’m not going to take it, somebody that’s here can take it, I’m not going to leave,” insistedVillamizar.
“Ok, that person can take it and we’ll be waiting till he shows up. And what happens if the little prosecutor doesn’t show?” asked the Mexican.
“He’s got to show, or else, we know what will happen,” Villamizar concluded.
They were carrying out the operation right along with the argument that President Iván Duque and the Colombian right had taken to the Congress. A series of objections that Duque had pushed, together with Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez, to modify the JEP and change the rules of the game that the guerrillas of the FARC had agreed upon in Havana for their demobilization. The media effect of this scandal, of course, would be one more ingredient to add supporters and corral the special jurisdiction.
The conversations in the hotel room ended up putting together the scene that the DEA agent was looking for. He was insisting that the prosecutor Bermeo would show up at the appointment so he could give him the money, and it would only take a few minutes to compromise him.
“Don Orlando, let me tell you something, after I sit down with Bermeo today, and he says ‘Yes, sir’, we can do etc, etc., etc., he can explain to me in five minutes, ‘Yes, sir’, and he trusts us, then I won’t have any reason to come and we won’t argue, just simply the things . . . ,” said the Mexican.
Orlando was mad for a few minutes, but he finally went along, after he received an affirmative telephone message from Gil:
“We’ve contacted the prosecutor. He’ll be with me in 5 minutes.
The last thing the Mexican said, after leaving to spring the trap at the Marriot Hotel, was about the JEP’s letter or request to the United States legal system for evidence. The same letter that he learned of at the end of January, according to the Duque administration’s version, an episode that would be cleared up in the investigations made by the JEP. Nevertheless, the Mexican, in his script, attributed that event to Bermeo in a sly way, as appears in the video, minutes before he arrived at the Marriot:
“No, no, no, no, remember, two very significant events have taken place: the letter is one, that helped us, and the other, the man in New York that has just been busted. Now, wait for the second part, this part is now f—-ed up, the second part is the one I’m going to explain to you, because we need, now we only need 90 days, that’s all, and with that, we go.
According to what we hear in the video, the parties agreed to leave the Artizan Hotel and head for the Marriot where the prosecutor Bermeo had agreed to be at 12 noon. The agent from the Attorney General’s Office had the rest of the money, while the Mexican thrust a bunch of bills into the inside pocket of his suit coat, the same ones he gave the prosecutor when he was seated together with former Senator Gil, listening to the illegal proposals from the DEA agent. From then on, as the country knows, it was the scenes from that time that made the JEP look corrupt to the public, like a corrupt agency that needed to be reformed.
One day after that event, Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez went to different communications media to talk about the Bermeo case. He knew very well that neither Santrich nor his close friends had interfered in this frame-up. However, he did have a doubt that he might now be contradicted: the notion of including Santrich in this script had been invented by Bermeo, Gil, Villamizar and his partners, or the DEA through the Mexican. That was clear. The chats and the video even show that it was the DEA, using the Mexican, that offered the two million dollars. And not the contrary, as Attorney General Martínez told a radio chain at that time: “The Attorney General’s Office infiltrated the operation, using an undercover agent, when Bermeo had already offered to interfere in the Santrich case.”
Through all those events, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace suffered a bad blow in the media. At the same time, the objections by President Duque and Attorney General Martínez took the Special Jurisdiction for Peace to the Constitutional Court, because the Congress had refused to vote for the objections. Months went by, the majority of the Court found in favor of the JEP, but at the time, the objective had been accomplished: to fracture Colombia’s peace process.