Colombia Drug Lord Freed After Surprise Rulings

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The leader of “Los Puntilleros,” one of Colombia’s most powerful criminals, has been released after a series of surprising judicial decisions, and will await further legal actions outside prison despite the seriousness of the charges against him.

A Colombian judge ruled that Óscar Mauricio Pachón, alias “Puntilla,” did not represent a threat to the public and could thus be freed to face charges of enforced disappearances and arms trafficking outside of prison, reported El Tiempo on April 8.

Pachón is suspected of having taken over the powerful criminal organization that operated in Colombia’s Eastern Plains and that was once ruled by Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias “el Loco”, one of the country’s most powerful modern drug lords currently incarcerated in the United States.

Puntilla had just stepped out of prison on April 8 after being arrested in February 2016 for a different set of charges — drug trafficking and homicide. According to El Espectador, his release was due to a lapse in the terms of his incarceration — a judge decided to let the suspect go in the absence of progress in the legal process. This argument was made by Puntilla’s defense, who had emphasized the absence of a trial after a year of incarceration.

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His instant arrest on a new set of accusations straight after he emerged from a high security prison in Cómbita in the Colombian department of Boyacá underlines the Attorney General’s Office’s strong intention to keep Puntilla under custody. Yet authorities were first told that there were no judges available to establish the legality of his arrest in Tunja, the capital of Boyacá, and thus transferred Puntilla to the small Tuta municipality in the same department where a judge refused the prosecution’s demand for the suspect to be placed in pre-trial detention.

Authorities have reportedly appealed the judge’s decision to release the suspect, who faces standing charges for arms trafficking and enforced disappearances.

Official sources also told El Tiempo that the decisions to free Puntilla by both judges will be investigated. Despite the information given to the authorities who arrested Panchón in Tunja to the contrary, two judges were available at the time of his arrest and could thus have ruled on pretrial detention measures without the prisoner being transfered to Tuta.

InSight Crime Analysis

Whether the concerned judges were corrupted — a possibility suggested by the reported launch of an investigation into the rulings — or whether Puntilla simply exploited judiciary mishaps, his release points to major weaknesses in Colombia’s justice system.

The absence of cautionary detention measures against an individual suspected of enforced disappearances — a serious offense considered a violation of international humanitarian law — is worrying. Allegations that Puntilla headed one of Colombia’s most powerful criminal organizations until his arrest in 2016 suggests that he still enjoys considerable criminal resources to evade future capture or flee the country.

In addition, Puntilla’s case appears diametrically opposed to that of thousands of low-level offenders packed into Colombia’s overcrowded prisons due to hardline sentencing policies. A third of the country’s inmates have never been convicted and are currently in pre-trial detention.

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