Colombia AG Says FARC Must Declare Illicit Assets Now

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Following the signing of a historic peace agreement, Colombia’s attorney general has said the country’s main guerrilla organization must declare all its assets, opening the door for future legal action and possible prison sentences for those who refuse to do so.

On September 27, Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) must declare all assets obtained illicitly during the armed conflict, otherwise members risk being prosecuted for money laundering, reported EFE.

The Colombian government and FARC leaders signed a peace deal on September 26 in Cartagena, culminating four years of negotiations to end the 50-year-old insurgency.

Martínez said the FARC must declare their assets before the peace accord takes effect, which will happen soon presuming a majority of Colombians vote in favor of a national plebiscite on October 2 to ratify the accords.

Martínez emphasized that any crimes perpetrated after the accords go into effect will be prosecuted by Colombia’s ordinary judicial system, not the special transitional justice system created to investigate crimes committed during the armed conflict.

This includes crimes of “an ongoing nature,” such as the FARC’s recruitment of minors or cultivation of illicit crops. The FARC retaining undeclared illicit assets will also be considered an ongoing offense, with Martínez asserting that if the Attorney General’s Office detects the existence of such assets after the accord’s implementation they would be subject to seizure.

“Illicit goods obtained during the conflict will not be written off,” said Martínez, adding that if the FARC attempt “to invest, transform, stockpile, retain custody or administer assets of illicit origin…it shall constitute the crime of money laundering.”

To date, the FARC have declared no assets or hidden wealth.

In response to Martínez’s statements, a top FARC member known by the alias “Jesús Santrich” accused the attorney general of links to companies that helped fund right-wing Colombian paramilitaries. Santrich’s further suggestion that the FARC should not declare their illicit earnings threatens to stir controversy over the peace accords and bolster the argument of those advocating a “no” vote in the October 2 referendum, reported Semana.

InSight Crime Analysis

Martínez’s tough rhetoric suggests Colombian prosecutors are prepared to prosecute FARC members on money laundering charges if undeclared assets are discovered during implementation of the peace accord. Indeed, it is probable that Colombian prosecutors are aware of such assets and may have a number of cases ready to pursue. For instance, on a recent visit to the United States, Martínez formed an “alliance” with US authorities to find and eliminate any FARC assets hidden abroad.

The FARC are known to have funded themselves through involvement in the drug trade and other illicit activities, such as illegal mining, leading to skepticism over the group’s oft-repeated claims that they are broke. For instance, The Economist, citing a government study, recently reported the FARC’s estimated net worth in 2012 was 33 trillion Colombian pesos (roughly $11.3 billion at current exchange rates). While it is difficult to know the true status of the FARC’s finances, InSight Crime estimated in 2013 that the guerrilla group may have made over $200 million by drug trafficking.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC peace 

Much of this money is believed to have been invested in real estate and companies within Colombia. Nonetheless, the FARC are also believed to have significant assets outside Colombia; the Colombian Attorney General’s Office has previously estimated 70 percent of the group’s assets are held abroad. A recent report suggested FARC leader Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo,” owns multi-million dollar properties in Costa Rica.

If in the future FARC members are found to have retained illicit assets in violation of the peace accords, they may face 20 years in prison, rather than the five to eight years of restricted liberty for FARC fighters who confess their crimes now.   

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