Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez, one of the most powerful men in Colombia’s justice system for the past 15 years, recently became the first former chief magistrate of the country’s Supreme Court to go to prison. As reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo on Sept. 20, Ricuarte faces four charges related to the corruption scandal now unfolding in Colombia’s highest judicial body.
A Web of Corruption
The Fiscalía, the country’s top prosecutor, says he is one of the brains behind a ring that took in millions of pesos to pervert criminal cases. Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martínez said Ricaurte is suspected of accepting bribes from Martínez’s own hand-picked anti-corruption chief, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera—who was arrested in June under pressure from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In mid-June, Moreno traveled to Miami to give an anti-corruption presentation to the Internal Revenue Service. But, as the Miami Herald reported, Moreno apparently had ulterior motives for the trip.
U.S. authorities say Moreno and a fellow attorney acting as his middleman met at the Dolphin Mall in Doral with a Colombian politician who had left the country to elude a corruption probe.
Meeting in a mall bathroom, the contact passed the duo a manila envelope filled with $10,000 in cash in exchange for information about the investigation back home. The contact was none other than Alejandro Lyons Muskus, the former governor of Córdoba department, then facing bribery and embezzlement charges in Colombia.
But Lyons had already been co-opted by U.S. authorities and promptly ratted out Moreno. Both Moreno and his attorney Leonardo Luis Pinilla were arrested on an Interpol Red Warrant upon their arrival in Colombia. They may face extradition back to Florida.
Also implicated in the bribery scandal at the Supreme Court are Colombian congressmen suspected of protecting the illegal paramilitaries that remain active in the countryside, terrorizing the peasants and vying for control of the cocaine trade.
Final Hit: Former Colombian Magistrate Gets Prison Time
Lyons is both accused of taking bribes from shady interests to allow extraction of natural resources in Córdoba and of collaborating with local paramilitaries. In particular, he’s being linked to the 2014 assassination of Jairo Alberto Zapa, an interior ministry official who was investigating the sleaze in Córdoba.
This is the condition that prevails on the ground across much of rural Colombia: a criminal network that controls both the cocaine trade and the resource industries, enforced by paramilitary terror and protected by local politicians. Now the chain of complicity has reached the highest levels of Colombian justice.