A high-ranking police commander in Colombia was arrested Thursday with over 100 kilos of cocaine hidden in his car. Police corruption has a long and troubled history in Colombia, but at first glance this case is unusual as it apparently involves a top official directly transporting narcotics.
Major Julio Cesar Torrijos Devia was stopped at a police checkpoint in the central department of Tolima on Wednesday. During a search, police found 112 packets of cocaine in his vehicle, weighing a total of 103kg.
Up until January 5, Torrijos headed the judicial police unit in the department of Caqueta, a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). At the time of his arrest, he was on vacation and was due to be transferred to another part of the country.
Police Director General Oscar Naranjo was quick to condemn Torrijos, while government security spokesman Francisco Lloreda called the major “a bad apple,” according to El Pais.
The last and most serious case implicating security officials in drug trafficking happened last October, when six naval officers, including three lieutenants, were arrested for receiving up to five million pesos (about US$2,700) in bribes from the Rastrojos every month.
Torrijos joins the company of other blacklisted police commanders like Colonel Danilo Gonzalez, a police intelligence officer who worked closely with the U.S. against the Cali Cartel, but who was later indicted for drug trafficking in a New York district court. He became a key player in the Norte Del Valle Cartel. Gonzalez was assassinated in mysterious circumstances in 2003.
Torrijos is not the first high-ranking police official to run into trouble while on the road. Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Carlos Martinez was arrested in January 2008 while traveling in a three-vehicle convoy with Victor Mejia Muñera. Muñera and his twin brother Miguel Angel, known as “the Twins,” were paramilitary commanders who ran a drug-trafficking cartel on the Caribbean coast at the time.
Corruption has long been an endemic problem in the police force. There are frequent reports, especially on the major highways running to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, of police checkpoints receiving payments from traffickers in return for letting shipments pass though unmolested.
But compared to the military, Colombian Police have not faced a corruption scandal as scarring or as far-reaching as the “false positives” debacle, in which soldiers killed innocent civilians and presented the bodies as guerrillas killed in combat. The “false positives” scandal resulted in the arrests of dozens of military personnel for human rights-related crimes, although few cases have resulted in convictions. The attorney general’s office is currently investigating more than 1000 cases of ‘false positives.’
The police did see several major successes last year, in particular the manhunt which resulted in the death of top drug trafficker Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo.” Last October, National Police Director Oscar Naranjo received an achievement award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in recognition for his 37 years in service and was dubbed “the world’s best policeman.”