Case Against Ex-Uribe Security Chief Goes to Trial in Colombia

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A prosecutor in Colombia will press forward with charges alleging ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s security chief helped a convicted drug trafficker launder money, highlighting longstanding accusations that have been leveled against Uribe’s family and members of his former administration.

Retired General Flavio Buitrago will be tried in a special court on May 6 for allegedly working with Marco Antonio Gil, a convicted drug trafficker known as “El Papero,” reported El Espectador. During the trial, prosecutors plan to present testimony from a former paramilitary commander and one of Gil’s extradited business associates alleging that Buitrago formed part of Gil’s criminal network.

According to El Espectador, there is ample evidence to suggest that Buitrago maintained connections with paramilitary leaders and drug traffickers for years. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) even warned Colombian authorities that his name frequently circulated among extradited paramilitary members in US prisons.

Buitrago is the second of Uribe’s security chiefs to face scrutiny for alleged criminal connections. General Mauricio Santoyo, who Buitrago replaced, was convicted in a US court in 2012 for aiding paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and Medellin-based criminal organization the Oficina de Envigado.

InSight Crime Analysis

The case against Buitrago is the latest in a long line of investigations into Uribe’s family and associates. While Uribe has claimed his allies are the victims of political persecution, many of his former associates have fled the country to escape charges against them.

Of the accusations against Uribe’s inner circle, three cases stand out:

Domestic Spying Scandal

In what has been called the Colombian “Watergate,” key members of the Uribe administration, including his former chief of staff and a former intelligence chief, were convicted for illegally wiretapping opposition politicians, judges, human rights activists, and journalists. In the wake of the scandal, President Juan Manuel Santos dismantled the intelligence agency (DAS) responsible for the illegal surveillance.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Paramilitary Links

In addition to Uribe’s own alleged ties to paramilitaries, his brother Santiago Uribe allegedly led a paramilitary group called the 12 Apostles, which was active during the 1990s and, according to witness testimony, trained at a farm owned by the Uribe family. Colombian authorities first opened an investigation into Santiago Uribe in 1996, and his efforts to squash the investigation have been rebuked by the Supreme Court.

The Cifuentes Villa Clan

While the former president has denied any knowledge of her existence, Dolly Cifuentes, the longtime girlfriend of Uribe’s brother Jaime, was extradited to the United States in 2012 and pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2013. Ana Maria Cifuentes, Alvaro Uribe’s niece, has been placed on the US Treasury Department’s “kingpin” list (pdf) and identified as a member of the Cifuentes Villa clan, which allegedly helped the Sinaloa Cartel launder money and smuggle over 30 tons of cocaine into the United States in addition to working with other drug trafficking groups.

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