Colombia Frees Brother of Top Organized Crime Leader

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The recent release of a high-level drug trafficking and money laundering suspect highlights Colombia’s continued difficulty in successfully prosecuting organized crime.

A Colombian judge granted Juan Carlos Calle Serna, alias “Armando,” conditional release after serving part of his prison sentence, El País reported.

Armando is a suspected member of drug trafficking group the Rastrojos and brother to former Rastrojos leader Javier Antonio Calle Serna, alias “Comba“. 

SEE ALSO: Rastrojos News and Profile

Armando was captured in Ecuador in 2012. At the time Colombian authorities suspected him of handling international finances for the Rastrojos, but were unable prosecute him on drug trafficking or money laundering charges. Instead, he was sentenced to five years in prison document fraud and for carrying an unregisted weapon. There are currently no other pending cases against Armando involving organized crime charges, sources from the Colombian Prosecutor General’s Office told El País.

Meanwhile, trials against Comba and Armando’s other brother, Luis Enrique Calle Serna, continue in the United States. Comba and Luis Enrique surrendered to US authorities separately in 2012.

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Luis Enrique Calle Serna (left) and Comba (right)

InSight Crime Analysis

Armando walking free in Colombia — while his brothers remain on trial in the United States — is indicative of the challenges that high-level crime figures pose to Colombia’s justice system. 

Despite receiving billions from the United States to beef up its police and military, Colombia’s courts remain relatively ineffective. A 2014 study found that only 15 percent of those arrested by police end up in prison. Meanwhile, frequent corruption scandals have reached as high as Colombia’s Constitutional Court

SEE ALSO:  Colombia News and Profiles

Colombian officials are aware of these issues, as evidenced by their extensive policy of extraditing organized crime figures to the United States. But relying on the United States for successful prosecutions is not a sustainable long-term policy, and is also a tool vulnerable to abuse

In this particular case, it is possible that Armando will return to a criminal organization that has been hobbled during his time away. On top of Comba’s surrender, the conviction of Rastrojos founder Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” has decimated the group’s leadership. 

Overall, it appears the Rastrojos have proved less capable of withstanding leadership losses, compared to their rivals the Urabeños, who now dominate the Colombian drug trade. This is despite the fact that to some degree, both the Rastrojos and the Urabeños adopted a more decentralized model when running their criminal businesses. 

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