Colombia's High Court ordered the exclusion of Miguel Angel Mejia Munera, alias "El Mellizo," who is accused of trafficking drugs for more than a decade, from the Justice and Peace process. He is the second ex-paramilitary to be expelled from the amnesty legislation of 2005. The Court also questioned the procedures used by the Prosecutor General's Office.
The Supreme Court is continuing its work of purging the so-called "pure drug traffickers" from the transitional justice process governed by Law 975 of 2005, through which ex-paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) are being tried and granted special benefits, including an alternative sentence to eight years in prison.
This article originally appeared in Verdad Abierta and is reprinted with permission. See original article here.
This time the decision affected Miguel Angel Mejia Munera, alias "El Mellizo" (The Twin) or "Pablo Arauca," who demobilized as a commander of the Bloque Vencedores de Arauca (Conquerors Bloc of Arauca), part of the AUC, and was the supposed leader of this paramilitary faction between 2000 and 2005. For the court, this leadership position was a façade he used to continue his activities linked to trafficking cocaine to the United States and Europe.
After determining that "El Mellizo" did not "perform [criminal activities] by virtue of or in connection with membership in the AUC," the Supreme Court, with a statement from Judge Patricia Salazar Cuellar, reached a decision on the appeals presented by the Prosecutor General's Office and representatives of the victims. These two organizations had appealed the decision made by the Hall of Justice and Peace of the Superior Tribunal of Bogota on September 4, 2012 to not legalize the charges of conspiracy to commit offenses between 1996 and 2000, drug trafficking, embezzlement and money laundering.
After reviewing the large quantity of evidence and testimony in the case, the High Court concluded that the defendant's goal "in joining the Bloque Vencedores de Arauca was mainly to conceal and facilitate his illegal drug trafficking business."
"El Mellizo" demobilized with the Bloque Vencedores de Arauca on December 23, 2005 in the area of Puerto Gaitan, part of the municipality of Tame, in Arauca. He never reported to the prosecutors from Justice and Peace, however, and continued participating in criminal activities until he was captured on May 2, 2008 in Tolima.
Although the national government nominated Mejia Munera to receive benefits from the Law of Justice and Peace, he was extradited to the United States on February 28, 2009, where he was wanted by the Court of the District of Columbia for crimes related to drug trafficking. He is currently detained in a prison in the state of Virginia.
According to the evidence against him, Mejia Munera, along with his brother Victor, who was killed in an anti-drug trafficking operation in the Bajo Cauca region of northern Antioquia on April 29, 2008, began their illicit activities as drug traffickers at the end of the 1980s when they created a "criminal organization recognized nationally and internationally as the 'Clan de los Mellizos' [Clan of the Twins], dedicated to large-scale cocaine trafficking between Latin America, the United States and Europe, for which they had the means, infrastructure and collaboration of other networks and organizations dedicated to this illicit activity."
The magnitude and importance of the organization led by the Mejia Munera brothers was highlighted in a dossier from the Spanish justice system that, after indicting one of the members of this criminal group in February 2005, determined that between 1994 and 2000 this group had sent at least 56,000 kilos of cocaine to different international markets, which they had bought in Colombia from known drug dealers and paramilitary leaders like Miguel Arroyave and Ramiro Vanoy Murillo.
The evidence of the dimension of this business led the Court to conclude that Mejia Munera "created a large-scale national and international criminal enterprise dedicated to trafficking drugs, which grew even more when he joined the Bloque Vencedores de Arauca, which is enough evidence to affirm that this illicit activity does not fall under the benefits of the Law of Justice and Peace."
The Bloque Vencedores de Arauca was created by the AUC between 1999 and 2000 and was offered to various paramilitary leaders in other regions of the country, who all declined the responsibility. Given this situation, the Mejia Munera brothers assumed command. The objective of this new faction, according to statements made by Salvatore Mancuso and Edwar Cobos Tellez to the prosecutors of Justice and Peace, was to "confront the guerrillas, fight them, and establish order in the region."
SEE ALSO: AUC Profile
While the Court said that this bloc of the AUC "was not established exclusively to traffic drugs, but with apparent counterinsurgency purposes," they added that "El Mellizo" took command not for "the alleged counterinsurgency fight, but to make his drug trafficking activities thrive, under the guise of paramilitary operations."
In fact, Mejia Munera himself, in his statement to the prosecutors of Justice and Peace on October 27, 2009, said that he only went to the department of Arauca, where he supposedly commanded a faction of the AUC, three times. According to his account he went to Arauca twice in 2003 and once more in 2005, to demobilize. According to the Court, "he was absent from the bloc and only went to the region three times, to facilitate and expand his drug trafficking activities."
The Court Questions the Prosecutor General's Office
The Court questioned the procedures used by the Prosecutor General's Office during the case of "El Mellizo." For the High Court, it's clear that the prosecutors made a mistake by soliciting the legalization of Mejia Munera's crimes related to drug trafficking because they were not committed due to Mejia Munera's membership in the AUC.
"The Prosecutor General's Office ignored their main duty to analyze in a contextualized manner the elements of the case before the court and as a result, instead of advancing the case since Mejia Munera doesn't meet the eligibility requirements, decided to ask for an audience to legalize the charges," stated the Court.
After reviewing the steps that need to be completed in order to present an ex-paramilitary before the court as an applicant for the benefits of the Law of Justice and Peace, the High Court determined that the statements and the analysis of the context should enable the Prosecutor General's Office to determine if an applicant can be held responsible for the crimes committed as a member of the AUC.
In this case, the court determined that based on the evidence, testimony and documents collected by the Prosecutor General's Office, "we conclude that Mejia Munera does not meet the basic requirement of eligibility to participate in the transitional process." The court added, "In this case, it is clear that with the same evidence, the Prosecutor General's Office shouldn't apply for, much less advance the process for the legalization of charges, and the Tribunal couldn't have agreed to legalize some of the crimes attributed to Mejia Munera."
The High Court reiterated in its verdict that "El Mellizo" never "acted as a member of the self-defense group with the goal of belonging to this organization, and did not even share its ideology." His actions, the verdict said, were intended to "support and promote a drug trafficking business, as the leader of an organization dedicated exclusively to that purpose."
For these reasons, this drug dealer and supposed paramilitary leader was excluded from the Justice and Peace process and won't have access to the benefit of an alternative sentence to eight years in prison. The court recommended that his case be tried in the regular judicial system.
As for the property turned in by Mejia Munera and seized by the authorities, the court decided that they will continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the Law of Justice and Peace to "attend to the legitimate aspirations of the victims of the criminal activities of the self-defense groups, specifically, the Bloque Vencedores."
Some Yes and Others No
The decision against alias "El Mellizo" was made two weeks after the same court established that former paramilitary bosses like Rodrigo Perez Alzate, alias "Julian Bolivar"— the commander of the Bolivar Southern Front of the Bolivar Central Bloc — could be prosecuted for drug trafficking without being excluded from the Justice and Peace process.
In that case, the High Court established that crimes associated with the trafficking of illicit substances could be tried in the various Justice and Peace tribunals provided they had a connection to the counterinsurgency effort advanced, in that case, by the AUC, to which the Bolivar Central Bloc and Julian Bolivar belonged.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
In a decision written by Judge Maria del Rosario Gonzalez Muñoz, the High Court established that, according to certain articles in the transitional justice laws – by which the former members of the AUC are prosecuted – "in Justice and Peace it is possible to address any criminal conduct, provided it was committed as, and while, part of the group."
Based on this decision, as well as evidence and testimonies, in the case of Julian Bolivar it was demonstrated that the drug trafficking-related activities he engaged in were aimed at financing the armed group and did not have the ultimate goal of criminal activity or personal enrichment.
This runs contrary to the decisions made in the cases of Mejia Munera and Francisco Javier Zuluaga Lindo, alias "Gordo Lindo" -- who was excluded from the process of transitional justice in a February 12 verdict, following the decision of the Justice and Peace Tribunal of the High Court of Medellin.
In the process against "Gordo Lindo," the court highlighted his intention of camouflaging himself in one of the paramilitary blocs of the AUC in order to disguise his operations as a "pure drug trafficker" and thus avoid the extradition warrant that had been issued against him by the United States.
Little by little, the court has been purging the Justice and Peace process, separating the groups and people who are dedicated exclusively to drug trafficking from those who led a counterinsurgency movement. Their goal is to prevent those who never truly formed part of an organized irregular armed group from misrepresenting themselves in order to "launder" their illegal activities and obtain the benefits of transitional justice.
*This article originally appeared in Verdad Abierta and is reprinted with permission. See original article here.