1706381074 The case that exposed the modus operandi of corruption in

The case that exposed the “modus operandi” of corruption in Colombian politics

The case that exposed the modus operandi of corruption in

The decline of Mario Castaño's political career began even before his capture. With just a week left until the 2022 general election, authorities arrested nine people on March 5 accused of belonging to a criminal network that collected bribes in exchange for awarding millions in contracts to public entities. The detainees were related to the then-liberal senator, who was seeking a third consecutive term in Congress. He achieved his goal with 68,315 votes, but he was arrested before he took office. Soon the truth emerged in a case that snowballed until it spread to other important politicians. Pierre García, director of the Social Prosperity Administration Department (DPS) at the end of Iván Duque's term, is the youngest.

Castaño dominated the Liberal Party in the Caldas department, where he came from, even though the average citizen in other regions knew little. He studied accounting, specialized in management and gained experience as a university professor and civil servant. After entering the House of Representatives, he successfully ventured into electoral politics in 2014 and reaffirmed his strength four years later by moving to the Senate. These years catapulted him. Because of the influence she had at the national level, it was common for candidates for mayor of Caldas to compete for her support. All power, based on charity and clientelism, collapsed within a year and a half.

In June 2022, prosecutors arrested him as he was leaving the National Capitol in central Bogotá. Aristides Betancurt, his lawyer, denied any connection between Castaño and the crimes for which he was being investigated. “The evidence that the prosecution has is processed as if it were true and the evidence that the defense has is purely technical. “I respect what the prosecution and the court say, but we have to have the legal debate in due course,” he told Caracol radio. But the evidence collected against his client was compelling.

The Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction to try him because of his status as a congressman, announced that he was under investigation for “alleged leader of a criminal organization, conspiracy to commit a crime and improper interest in the execution of contracts.” “, embezzlement, extortion and fraud.” Two months later, in August, Castaño accepted his responsibility for failing to deny the obvious. The sentence he received in June 2023 was 15 years and 11 months in prison, of which he served only a minimal part as he died last November as a result of cardiac arrest.

Castaño was the head of a sophisticated system of direct contract awarding by state institutions. Between 2020 and March 2022, according to judicial investigations, the Caldense politician influenced the allocation of 43,000 million pesos from the state treasury (almost 10.2 million dollars) and always charged fees for his irregular services. Its tentacles reached entities of various kinds – the DPS; the interior and sports ministries; the risk management unit; the government of Chocó; including the National Learning Service (SENA) – and concerned projects carried out in various areas of Colombia. For example, it emerged that Sacúdete al Parque, the policy developed by then-President Iván Duque to build sports centers in small communities, was permeated by Castaño's criminal network. If a mayor wanted his city to benefit from this initiative, the politician would ensure this in exchange for a percentage of the money allocated to carry out the work.

Prosecutors showed the former Liberal lawmaker carefully selected who he brought into his criminal network to perfect his actions. The evidence includes almost 60 people. One of the names that most attracted the attention of the authorities was that of Nova Lorena Cañón, a lobbyist who took advantage of her proximity to Juliana Márquez, mother of then-President Iván Duque, to manage projects in favor of Castaño's interests . “[Cañón] He apparently requested information about the proposals' progress, called meetings with officials, held face-to-face meetings with local leaders, and followed instructions from the elected senator. [Castaño], who would be the articulator of the corruption network,” stated the prosecution. Cañón has defended that the president's mother knew nothing about it.


Current events analysis and the best stories from Colombia, delivered to your inbox every week


The latest episode of the scandal began in December last year, just weeks after Castaño's death. The Supreme Court announced the arrest of Ciro Ramírez, senator of the right-wing Democratic Center – the group founded by former President Álvaro Uribe – for collecting bribes to determine who would be the builders of 13 structures in the departments of Quindío and Tolima would. The crimes that former President Duque's party colleague is accused of are linked to the conspiracy led by Castaño. “These facts arise from the investigation and trial of Congressman Mario Alberto Castaño, convicted by the Trial Chamber of corruption in contracting,” the court said.

The same month, former Uribe congressman Pierre García was indicted for conspiracy to commit a crime and improper interest in the conclusion of contracts, committed during his time as deputy director and director of the DPS in the final stretch of Duque's four-year term, between June 2021 and July 2022. The public prosecutor's office requested his arrest for allegedly directing the allocation of millionaire funds that went to infrastructure projects in Quindío, Tolima and Valle del Cauca. According to the accusing body, there are records of meetings García held with other participants, including Ramírez's legislative advisers who served as emissaries.

García is in France, a country of which he is also a citizen. The public prosecutor's office requested that an extradition request be issued. However, the agreements in force between the two states stipulate that these types of deliveries will not be carried out if the person requested is a citizen of one of the parties. Conservative senators Miguel Ángel Barreto and Samy Merheg were also named in the hearings. The scope of research could continue to increase. The truth about the corruption network did not die with Mario Castaño.

Subscribe to the EL PAÍS newsletter about Colombia here and the WhatsApp channel here and receive all the important information on current events in the country.