By Alfredo Molano Jimeno, CAMBIOColombia, September 24, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Criminal Investigation Judge #25 in the Military Criminal Justice System was declared disqualified this week for her mysterious maneuvers that favored soldiers involved in homicides, drug trafficking, and corruption.
In the department with the most false positives in the whole country, Major María Teresa Ladino managed to see that no soldier was ever convicted of murder. For 20 years as a Criminal Investigation Judge in the Military Criminal Justice System, she turned out to be the guarantor of impunity for the soldiers and police that were involved in multiple crimes.
“She worked when she happened to feel like it”, “the files in her office were butchered”, “she never carried out the tests that were requested, she lost them, and she let the statute of limitations expire”, “the homicide complaints never got anywhere in her court”. Those are some of the reasons that Major María Teresa Ladino, Investigative Judge #25 in the Military Criminal Justice System based in Ríonegro, Antioquia, was sacked along with her Secretary, Claudia Patricia Jurado Echeverry. When the Military Criminal Justice System made that decision, she was actually in México, pursuing studies in order to be promoted to colonel.
The matter passed unnoticed in the maelstrom of newsworthy events and scandals that go viral, but the internal investigation learned that Ladino and her secretary occupy the discreditable position of being the most inefficient court in Colombia, a country known for low-performing courts. The management of the Military Criminal Justice System also found that a file where a soldier had committed a homicide had never emerged from this court. There, in the municipality with the second highest number of false positives in the whole department, the soldiers had carte blanche to commit crimes. Once the criminal complaints arrived in her office, the Judge and her Secretary deployed an efficient strategy for the investigation to be placed on file, go stale, or for the statute of limitations to expire.
How did Ladino obtain this position? What actions and decisions guaranteed that she would be able to exercise so much impunity for two decades?
Her judicial career began on December 29, 2004, when President Álvaro Uribe ordered the corps of officials to send a permanent commission of military to be embedded in the Military Criminal Justice System. A few days later, Ladino took off her camouflage and put on her robe in San Vicente del Caguán. She was there a little more than a year and they sent her to the court at the Tres Esquinas military base, also in Caquetá. In 2007 she worked as a Criminal Investigation Judge in Granada, Meta Department, and in 2008 she arrived for the first time to work as Criminal Investigation Judge #25 in Rionegro, Antioquia Department. Not long after, she was declared disqualified, but, based on resources, she was able to rejoin the System on October 26, 2015, with a juicy administrative back wage payment. Since then and until last Tuesday, the now Army Major turned into the Judge most sought after by criminals having military privilege.
For nine years, Ladino waxed and waned in her judicial office. That’s how the resolution notifying her of her disqualification described it. “Throughout your history as Criminal Investigation Judge #25 of Military and Police (IPMP) you have systematically behaved reprehensibly (. . .); there is evidence of the phenomenon of corruption, out and out, with different shades and manifestations and nuances.” The representative of the Inspector General’s Office assigned to the court, Edison Alexander Duran, told Ladino and her Secretary that he was aware that they had bagged away every homicide complaint that had arrived at their court.
Among the cases that the Inspector General found, there were seven with very evident signs of being false positives. For that reason, the representative of the Inspector General’s Office pointed to the conflict of jurisdictions, but the statute of limitations had expired on the criminal charges one by one “because of procedural inactivity of more than four years without any serious decision, no relevant evidence, some without undertaking anything, pages not numbered correctly, pages erased or with erasures or crossing-out, troubling certificates, procedural irregularities, and missing evidence.”
One of the cases occurred on May 5, 2003, in the town (vereda) of Las Termales in Puerto Venus, Antioquia, where Arquímedes Rivera and 14-year-old Wilson Cañaveral died. Both were presented as “killed in combat” by the Briso 1 and 2 Squadron. The Army refused to make a reconstruction of the events, claiming the risk to public order in the area, but a witness said he knew the teenager, who had been traveling on a motorbike with Sr. Rivera. “The dead people were not killed in combat. They were tied up, beat up, and then they were killed and dressed in military uniforms,” a person told the Attorney General’s representative in Sonsón.
Still, the Investigative Court #25 disputed the competence of the investigation, messed up the process with page numbering errors, allowed the soldiers to give contradictory versions and didn’t order the arrest of the killer, who had been clearly identified by his fellow soldiers. The files in the case were covered with dust in Ladino’s office until a representative of the Inspector General’s Office revived it in 2011 to send it to the ordinary justice system. And there the “witnesses” did agree. “The testimony on August 2, 2012 by Sr. Rubiel Londoño Martínez who, indicating his condition as to be demobilized eventually, recognized the two dead people as supposed militants of subversive groups in 1999 (At that time the youth killed in the supposed combat would have been 10 or 11 years old.) and he thought he had seen him with a weapon,” according to the Inspector General’s report.
It also happened that the supposed medical doctor who performed the autopsy “doesn’t appear to be registered either in Arboleda, Caldas Department, or in Puerto Venus, and that the photos have also disappeared from the file. Without noting that the documentation of the Battalion’s operations doesn’t mention the supposed combat, there are no registers of use of munitions, and the testimony of the soldiers is confused. With all of these irregularities, the Inspector General’s representative did not hesitate to describe this event as a possible human rights violation and asked that the ordinary justice system take over the case. Nevertheless, Judge Ladino has gone three years without doing anything. She says she sent off the file as the Inspector General’s representative had requested, but there is no record of that happening. The Judge makes clear that the new technologies are not used in her office. She doesn’t have email, or a scanner, or a computer, and she practices law as if it were in the times of the Constitution of Rionegro, before independence. Another of the cases bogged down by Ladino and her Secretary is the one from December 30, 2004, and this one was also reviewed by the Inspector General’s representative, Edison Duran Zapata. On that day, at 4:00 a.m. in Guadualito, Cocorná, the Counterinsurgent Rayo II received an attack in which two people were killed but not identified. The Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation and only five years later opened a formal investigation against First Sergeant 2d Class Hernayde Navarro Benites. Ladino didn’t even order his arrest. Between 2010 and 2013, without any tracing, it turned out that the “unidentified” individuals were identified as Alirio Antonio Gallego Herrera, who had been in military service, and Juan Pablo Pérez Cadavid. Then the case was sent to the Military Legal System which, sent it back for “investigation” and requested corrections and additional proof.
And so it was left to Barrios Saavedra to resolve the legal situation as the file is bungled in Ladino’s office. “The file doesn’t have page numbers, there is missing and confused material supposedly collected from those killed or captured in the alleged combat but doesn’t appear, it doesn’t agree or was rehashed with errors,” warns the Inspector General’s representative who also attached the testimony of the mother of one of those killed. The mother states that her son disappeared from a neighborhood in Medellín on December 28, 2004. With those elements, the victim’s attorneys requested that the investigation be transferred to the ordinary justice system. The Judge agreed on June 4, 2019, and left in evidence that her final action in the case was in June of 2005, 14 years ago.
“The actions sufficiently illustrated in the plenary, added to the testimony of the soldiers involved, who did not agree with each other’s versions on matters that, according to the rules of experience (. . .) counsel that these were not legitimate combat kills,” states the Inspector General’s representative, recalling that this is the typical modus operandi of a false positive. And he concludes: “It’s evident that there was an alleged violation of human rights by the soldiers involved, as they not only were the last to see them alive, and if not, they failed to act as guarantors of their lives and safety.” And to top off the case, plagued with irregularities, the Inspector General’s representative complained that one of the soldiers involved “has or did have” a matrimonial relationship with the Secretary of the criminal court.
“Ministry of Defense
Rooting out the corruption in the Military and Police Justice System. The Case of Military Criminal Investigation Court #25 in Rionegro- Antioquia
Bogotá D.C., September 19, 2023. The Special Administrative Unit of the Military and Police Criminal Justice System, in the exercise of the “Zero Corruption Policy”, declared the appointments of Sras. María Teresa Ladino Restrepo, Colombian Army Major, and Claudia Patricia Jurado Echeverry, Judge and Secretary respectively, to be disqualified to serve in Criminal Investigation Court #25, based in Rionegro-Antioquia.
It has been verified that the above-named public servants, Judge and Secretary, continuously and for several years disregarded the duties of their mission and the principles of their public function. By action and omission, they constituted a systematic obstacle to the accomplishment of the mission of the Specialized Justice in that Office, with serious effects on an abundance of their files; particularly those involving crimes of homicide, some with indications of possible extrajudicial executions.
On numerous occasions, they actually suspended performance of the services of the Military and Police Criminal Justice System, refusing to pay attention to the Inspector General and to the users of the System in general. At least 33 files were found to show the imminent expiration of the statute of limitations, others showing it approaching, while in another 7 cases it had already passed. There are cases that were “collecting dust”, with delinquency of decades; some of those date back to 1999, with more than 20 years of preliminary investigation. Among many other irregularities.”
In these terms, the declaration of disqualification of the Judge and the Secretary shows that these were not isolated practices, but rather their pattern of juridical activity. “The files were found engulfed in a regimen of inertia, disorder, and anarchy because of the indolence of the Judge and the Secretary, who didn’t even go to work regularly,” reads the document. It points out additionally, that the officials regularly issued arrest warrants with spelling errors and incorrect identification numbers; evidence disappeared from their files, pages were mutilated, there were no follow-up activities, they didn’t issue requests for evidence, didn’t give notice of their decisions, and the decisions could not be traced.
The report also states that it’s two years and eight months since the Inspector General’s Office has received any notification from Court #25 other than dismissals, writs of prohibition, and closed files only in cases of desertion. Of the 115 cases inventoried in the Court, “as of now she has 31 homicide cases in her charge, some of them with two or more deaths, cases that don’t report any activity, management, or decision. That doesn’t count the average of 80 that are placed on file without also reviewing for homicide.” Neither are the cases where soldiers were involved in drug trafficking being moved.
And the resolution concludes, “According to the monthly production statistics, the Military and Police Criminal Investigation Court #25 is consistently throughout the period the office with the lowest production in the entire system (. . .) and it’s the one with the fewest deadlines met and it’s the one that shows the least respect for the principle of promptness (. . .) there are preliminary investigations of homicide cases that date back to 1999.” And according to these statistics, the average rate of activity at the national level is three times as much as that of Judge Ladino.
So, the Judge and her Secretary have left the Court with 115 cases, in which for 6.1%, the statute of limitations may have expired, and for 28%, that is 33 cases, it’s about to expire. From there, the Director of the Military and Police Criminal Justice System, José Reyes Rodríguez describes the work of Major María Teresa Ladino as the most ineffectual in the entire Military System, whose grade would be futile and useless” and she has become a “big obstruction” of the administration of justice. The ex-Judge Ladino was consulted by CAMBIO, and she maintained that it was an injustice toward her and that none of the assertions that are found in the administrative order were communicated to her so that she could exercise her right to defend herself. She also explained that as she was still an active member of the Colombian Army, she could not make a statement without authorization on the issue. But the only thing that’s true here is that not only she, but also her Secretary were declared to be disqualified and that the case will be referred to the Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General so that they can follow up on the clues in the complaints against the two women who were the protagonists in the bare-bones communication of this week.