A sex scandal involving the Colombian police is unfolding at a politically sensitive time, as the force prepares to assume a key role in implementing an expected peace accord between the government and the country's largest rebel group.
The director of Colombia's National Police, Rodolfo Palomino, announced his resignation on Wednesday, the day after prosecutors said they would open an investigation into his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring operating within the police ranks, among other accusations.
According to testimony from current and former members of the police, officers pressured cadets to perform sexual services in exchange for money and other favors. Local media outlets have reported that the clients of the so-called "Community of the Ring" included high-ranking police officers and members of Congress.
While Palomino has denied any wrongdoing, this is not the first time he has been implicated in a sex scandal. Three police officials retired late last year after a recording surfaced that appeared to show them pressuring an officer not to pursue accusations that Palomino had solicited sexual favors from him nearly two decades ago.
Prosecutors say their investigation of Palomino also extends to allegations of illicit enrichment, stemming from recent media reports raising questions about how the former police director acquired large tracts of valuable property.
Additionally, the Attorney General's office is looking into claims that the police illegally spied on several well-known journalists investigating the prostitution scandal, and whether Palomino knew about or participated in those alleged activities.
InSight Crime Analysis
Palomino's resignation comes just over a month before the self-imposed March 23 deadline for a final ceasefire agreement between the government and guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). Should a peace deal be reached, the ongoing scandal surrounding the "Community of the Ring" could prove an unwelcome distraction for a police force expected to play a crucial role in implementing the expected accord.
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The scandal is also a black mark on the record of a police force widely seen as a model for the region. The Colombian police have participated extensively in training foreign security forces in recent years, and are largely viewed as less corrupt and more effective in combating organized crime than other police forces across the region. However, the growing evidence of misbehavior by officers at the highest levels of the force could diminish that reputation.