Arrested La Guajira governor 'Kiko' Gomez

Prosecutors in Colombia are investigating over 200 public officials for ties to the criminal organizations known as the BACRIM, illustrating how these paramilitary successor groups have continued their predecessors' reliance on corrupt contacts within the state.

The specialist BACRIM (from "Bandas Criminales" or "Criminal Bands") unit of the Attorney General's office has opened investigations into 208 officials, according to a report seen by El Colombiano. They inlude 114 members of the security forces, 10 town councilmen or aspiring councilmen, and seven mayors or mayoral candidates.

Among other officials targeted are prosecutors, investigators from the Attorney General's office investigatory branch known as the CTI, judicial secretaries and other justice system officials.

The police have more suspects than any other state institution, with 93 officials under investigation, 60 of them at the level of patrol officer.

The worst affected areas are the Urabeños stronghold of the state of Antioquia, with 43 investigations; Choco, the home of a smaller group known as Renacer, which is backed by the Urabeños, with 22; and Rastrojos heartland Valle del Cauca with 19.

InSight Crime Analysis

The BACRIM's paramilitary predecessors, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), established a network of corruption of unprecedented reach, using their counterinsurgency credentials and criminally-sourced wealth to extend their influence into every corner of the state.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

The demobilization of the AUC in 2006 created the hybrid paramilitary-mafia organizations, which the government called BACRIM. These successor groups do not have the political credentials or the national organizational structures to be able to maintain such an extensive network. However, corruption remains a key part of their operations.

As illustrated by the distribution of investigations across institutions, the most important corrupt contacts the BACRIM look for are in the security forces. Corrupt members of the army and the police can be paid to ensure safe passage of drug shipments, as well as for intelligence on the movements and activities of the security forces and rival criminal groups.

In the arena of politics, the power of the BACRIM is substantially less than their predecessors. The AUC's influence extended to every level of politics from the municipal to national congress, where according to AUC leaders, over a third of members were sympathizers. In contrast, the BACRIM have generally focused more on lower level politics, using their sway to ensure their local activities do not attract unwanted attentions (pdf).

Nevertheless, as highlighted by the recent case of La Guajira Governor Francisco "Kiko" Gomez, who stands accused of working with first the AUC then the BACRIM, in some regions the ties between high level politicians and paramilitaries established in the era of the AUC persist today.