By Camilo García, EL ESPECTADOR, December 20, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

José Reyes Rodríguez, Director of the Military Criminal Justice System, has furnished an analysis of the struggle against corruption that he has been advancing since he took over as Director. In addition, he explained why the System had protested the case of a homicide in the National Strike.

José Reyes Rodríguez has been Director of the Military Criminal Justice System for a little more than a year, and he has already dismissed eight judges for cases of what appears to be corruption. A lot of people thought this attorney had come in “for a housecleaning”, and the number of people who have already left the agency, some even with pending criminal charges, is just the beginning of what he’s going to do. In an interview with EL ESPECTADOR, the Director referred to the decisions he has made to press cases forward, avoid corruption, and advance the implementation of the prosecution system so that the cases are tried in public. In addition, he mentioned one of the hot potatoes with which he will be closing out the year. It’s the case of Colonel Carlos Feria who is being investigated for wiretapping the phone calls of Marelbys Meza, a former employee of Laura Sarabia.

When you took over the job a little over a year ago, you said that you found a high number of cases that were stalled, frozen, not going anywhere. How many such cases did you identify, and how are they progressing now?

I have an analogy that I’ve institutionalized. This is a bicycle race, where some people are ahead of the pack, with very high standards of production; others are there in the pack, and some of them are good; others are lagging behind. They will have to get on the team, or they’re gone. We’re making an effort to identify the cause, and we’re providing support, but if it’s definitely impossible, if it’s a constant, because they don’t respond, or if it’s an ethical issue, meaning that we have some criminals in this office, that’s definitely not negotiable. That’s why we document the cases, not only to find individuals disqualified, but also to file charges and disciplinary complaints.

When you say ethical issues, what are you referring to? What have you found?

That documents have been falsified, for example. That is a crime, because society will lose confidence in us, because we are telling lies in public documents. That they intentionally fail to respect court decisions, in certain cases, the statute of limitations has expired, or is about to. That’s not just a blunder or ignorance, but it puts us in a situation of possibly criminal conduct.

After those findings, how many judges have been found to be unqualified this year?

Since I took over, eight judges have been found to be unqualified. All of them have a component bordering on corruption. Dramatic cases, that signify a dysfunction that is difficult to regularize, or issues that are both ethical and intolerable. We delayed a little, because we have to be responsible as an institution. That means that, if we make some decisions, we have to support them with documentation that is very solid and robust. That can’t be either intuitive or emotional.

One of the judges, María Teresa Ladino, was found to be unqualified because she allowed the statute of limitations to expire on seven cases, and 33 more were headed in the same direction. What have you done to avoid having the statute expire in those cases?

Spotlight a judge that was responsible for that, and a new secretary so that that office would become functional, and we set some goals for them. We hope that it will be functional in a year. They will even have to provide reports, because there was so much that they were ignoring. For example, there were a lot of complaints that had not been filed. There were also many cases that weren’t even within the jurisdiction of the Military Justice System, and we sent them over to the ordinary justice system. And if there are cases where there’s a risk that the statute of limitations will expire, those will be given priority. In reality, it was putting them to work. In addition, a complaint was filed against Judge Ladino and her secretary for more than 70 offenses.

Will there be other similar decisions?

Possibly, but responsible, documented, and sustained. We can’t make these decisions lightly or emotionally.

One of the big commitments confronting this office is implementing the charging system and doing it publicly. How is this process going?

It’s going very well. The first phase was Bogotá which has now been going on for a year and three months and is working well and on schedule. The second phase is also under way, barely starting to increase, we are three months in. That includes a large part of the country, in departments like Nariño, Cauca, Valle, Huila, Tolima, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío, Cundinamarca, and Boyacá. And we are preparing now for the third phase that involves the departments on the coast, meaning La Guajira, Magdalena, Bolívar, Atlántico, Sucre, Córdoba, and it already includes Antioquia, Chocó, Santander, and Norte de Santander.

The Military Criminal Justice System claims to have jurisdiction to investigate the case involving Colonel Carlos Alberto Feria for the illegal use of the polygraph in the case of Marelvys Mesa. Why?

Using the criteria of autonomy and independence, the judges and the prosecutors are able to examine the events and verify a number of circumstances to see if the Military Criminal Justice System has jurisdiction, or if jurisdiction is with the ordinary justice system. Issues are the fact that these are persons who are on active duty, that is, not retired, nor on vacation, nor on leave of absence, and that the actions for which the Colonel is charged have a close and direct relationship with his duties. These evaluations were the ones that, under the principles of autonomy and independence, were made by the prosecutors, who had to decide whether his actions must be seen as overstepping his authority, in which case, jurisdiction would be with the Military Criminal Justice System.

Does that mean that that you think that what Colonel Feria allegedly did amounted to overstepping his functions?

I’m not going to commit to an exact criterion, because that is the role of the respective prosecutor, but that is one of the criteria, which is overstepping authority.

A while ago, the Military Criminal Justice System criticized the case of Jaime Fandiño, who allegedly was killed by a former agent of Esmad,[1] Néstor Samuel Pacheco. Why?

We are aware that the case is different from the precedent of Dylan Cruz, and that’s why the military investigating judge found that that legal precedent didn’t apply; that that case was involuntary manslaughter and not intentional, and that investigation is very advanced.

[1] Esmad is the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron, a branch of the National Police.

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