Medellín, Colombia Security Minister’s Arrest Shows Crime-Politics Link

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The security secretary of Medellín, Colombia was arrested recently for allegedly colluding with what was long the city’s most powerful crime syndicate, in an incident that underscores how organized crime retains significant political influence in the city despite a drastic reduction in violence over the past two decades.

Medellín Security Secretary Gustavo Villegas Restrepo surrendered himself to authorities on July 4 after learning that police had attempted to detain him at his office while he was away, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Villegas, who was charged with aggravated criminal association, is accused of colluding with the Oficina de Envigado criminal group to help some of its members negotiate with judiciary authorities, reported El Colombiano.

Authorities say Villegas delivered privileged information to two incarcerated ranking figures of the criminal organization: Julio Perdomo, alias “El Viejo,” and Edinson Rodolfo Rojas, alias “Pichi Gordo.” Authorities say they have proof that the two incarcerated criminals helped Villegas obtain the arrest of an Oficina member on at least one occasion, reported El Tiempo.

In addition, while Villegas did not receive money, his food distribution company was reportedly spared from extortion as compensation for helping the group enter in negotiations with authorities over their desire to obtain the status of “peace advocate” under a July 2016 presidential decree that provides temporary legal protection for individuals cooperating with authorities to construct peace.

The measure was meant for fighters of Colombia’s main guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), both of which have engaged in peace negotiations with the government. But certain members of Medellín’s underworld surrendered last year hoping to obtain this status. And earlier in March 2016, reports had surfaced concerning Oficina de Envigado members seeking to be granted the privileges attached to being a peace advocate, which includes the suspension of detention and arrest warrants.

Villegas has faced allegations in the past of ties with Colombia’s demobilized paramilitary groups but was never convicted. He has formally denied the latest charges in court, and told El Colombiano he was confident with his actions that led to the surrender of six members of the Terraza, a powerful faction of the Oficina de Envigado famed for hired killings.

InSight Crime Analysis

Medellín has been widely and often praised for its success in drastically reducing crime since the 1990s, when it was infamous around the world as the violent epicenter of the global cocaine trade. But Villegas’ arrest is a reminder that Medellín has not completely eradicated organized crime’s influence on the city’s governance.

If the charges against Villegas are to be believed, they do not appear to suggest a standard case of greed-driven corruption; indeed, no money was allegedly exchanged. However, they do show how negotiations — both in the political realm as well as in the underworld — have contributed to a reduction in violence in Medellín.

SEE ALSO: Oficina de Envigado News and Profile

In 2013, for instance, the city’s white-collar mafia realized that their criminal profits were being driven down by the violence of criminal power struggles. As InSight Crime chronicled at the time, this group of city elites deeply enmeshed in the underworld brokered a truce between rival factions of the Oficina as well the Urabeños criminal group. Peace was restored, homicides dropped, and business went back to usual.

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