SEMANA, May 13, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office is getting the Colombian military in serious trouble for trafficking weapons where their clients were the FARC dissidents. Members of the Colombian military were selling weapons to be used to kill Colombian soldiers.

A seizure of weapons from the FARC dissidents in Nariño turned into a meticulous and scandalous investigation that turned up a shocking piece of evidence: there was corrupt activity in which officials of the Colombian Army, some of them even of the highest rank, were selling weapons and equipment to criminal groups that were killing soldiers and police in different parts of this country. They had turned into the armory for the dissidents.

The origin of this scandal was the seizure of more than 800 cartridges and multi-purpose vests on a road that leads from Pasto to Tumaco. The seizure was nothing special, certainly, because in that convulsive region of coca mining, narcos, and all  the criminal organizations at war, operations like that happen every week.

But doubts about the origin of these weapons caught the attention of a section of the Attorney General’s Office in Nariño. They put it under the microscope and discovered a cesspool of corruption. The cartridges in the possession of the FARC dissidents, the ones they were using to fight against the government, to kill social leaders, and sow terror in different parts of this country, came from a munitions batch that, in theory, the Colombian Army itself had ordered destroyed. With no explanation, they were now in the rifles belonging to the criminals.

The experts in the Attorney General’s Office compared them, cartridge by cartridge, with the system used by the Armed Forces to track the munitions and the weaponry. The tracking indicated that those cartridges, seized in September of 2022, had been destroyed by a group especially designated to perform that function.

Every cartridge in that seizure had been in the hands of Colombian Army officers, noncoms, and soldiers, but for reasons of security, and after they had been in use for a time, the munitions were ordered to be removed.

The problem is that those in charge of that procedure did not destroy those weapons and equipment; it looks as if they put them up for sale. The findings by the Attorney General’s Office, with just a check of the Army’s information systems, uncovered what may be a corruption scandal that has not only put public funds at risk, but also the lives of the members of the Armed Forces, who would be attacked, ironically, with government bullets.

In a few months, what had started as one more seizure in Nariño turned into a national investigation of corrupt acts, with a list of officials which, to preserve the investigation, SEMANA will not reveal. What sources in the process did reveal was the involvement of generals, colonels, and lower officials in different units.

The Attorney General’s Office has in its possession documents, recordings, resolutions, and records that reveal a criminal enterprise being carried on inside military units, not only in Nariño, but also in other departments of this country. The Colombian Army has turned into the armory for the FARC dissidents and other criminal groups.

Preliminarily, the investigation commenced by the Attorney General’s Office is for the crimes of falsifying public documents, embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, and other actions that will be added in accordance with additional findings. The scandal of corruption is not only egregious in a setting of so much violence in this country, but also as it expands and more officials are found to be involved.

Searching the Colombian Army

A few weeks ago, by order of a prosecutor specializing in crimes against public administration, with the support of Colombian Army counterintelligence units, CTI (Technical Investigation Corps) investigators went to the offices of the 23rd Brigade, headquartered in Pasto, Nariño Department. The objective was clear, to obtain the documents setting forth what is already known. The investigators went to the Brigade archives and to the place where the Brigade’s weaponry was stored. They were looking for the documents that would support the supposed destruction of the munitions and the supply materials that the Army’s Planning and Logistics Office had identified in its records months before.

In their process of inspection, they found a document that was key to their investigation. It was “Record of Final Destination of Seized Property n. 004162 and signed June 20, 2021. And in that document, which is now one of the principal pieces of evidence, the Army gave the order to destroy more than a million cartridges caliber 5.56 and 2,029 multi-purpose vests, the same as those found in the possession of the FARC dissidents. The Attorney General’s Office found more than enough evidence for the investigation to proceed further. The documents drew a detailed picture of the criminal dynamic that grew and spread like a virus in the Colombian Army.

The evidence reached the prosecutor in charge of ordering another search and inspection, this time in Bogotá. The investigators, with a search warrant, arrived at the Logistics Department Headquarters No.4 to obtain, formally and for the purpose of obtaining evidence to be used in court proceedings, all of the documents in support of the initial Order for Destruction, the same one that instructed military units in different areas of the country that these weapons and materials were to be destroyed.

SEMANA has seen the documents in the possession of the Attorney General’s Office and that became the basis for the investigation to show the involvement of high-ranking officers in the Colombian Army. The supporting documents detail who it was that gave the order to destroy the weapons and the vests, who was to carry it out, and who was corrupt.

What is lacking is establishing what happened after those orders were issued by the Army Commander and how the corrupt officials were able to document the faked destruction and later hide the weapons, transport them, put them up for sale, and then find a buyer: the FARC dissidents. It turns out to be obvious, at the least, that it is officers in the Army that are in the middle of this network of corruption extending all over this country.

The task of the prosecutors will be to establish in which areas of the country besides Nariño the same thing happened and whether the million cartridges that were ordered destroyed are now in the ranks of the criminal armed groups. The officers implicated are clearly identified. The investigators expect that, once the process of inspection and collection of evidence is complete, they will go on to the next phase, which could include charges and even arrests. The scandal of the so-called “dissidents’ armory” is barely beginning.

SEMANA consulted the Army for the purpose of obtaining a response to these serious events, now being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office. The objective was to find out, in detail, who gave the order for destruction, and who was responsible for disobeying the order. At the close of this edition, they assured us that they were in consultation with legal officials, but they did not resolve the concerns.

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