A recent scandal involving large sums of cash linked to underworld figures suggests the corrupting influence of Colombia's so-called BACRIM may have penetrated the national Congress.
On April 5, Colombian authorities announced an official Senate vehicle had been detained in Bogotá transporting 614 million pesos, or roughly $201,000, reported El Tiempo.
The driver of the vehicle was Luis Javier Rojas Morera, the son of Magdalena Morera, who is the Colombian Senate's finance and budget director. Records indicate Rojas Morera began working for Alexánder García Rodríguez, a congressional representative from Guaviare department, in July 2015.
At the time of his arrest, Rojas Morera could not explain the money's origin, and allegedly offered a bribe of roughly $32,000 for his release.
The arrest, conducted by members of the army and the Attorney General's investigation unit (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación – CTI), was reportedly the result of US intelligence.
According to El Tiempo, an informant working with the US Drug Enforcement Administration said a total of $3.2 million was being transferred to Bogotá via car from Colombia's Eastern Plains region, known as Los Llanos.
The informant said Los Puntilleros -- an emerging criminal organization headed by the drug trafficker Mauricio Pachón, alias "Puntilla," who was captured in February -- were sending the money.
The seized cash is believed to have been destined for a money laundering network known to operate in the cities of Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Colombia's Attorney General's Office believes members of this organization contacted Rojas Morera to transport the money, thinking the vehicle's official documentation would preclude it from being stopped and searched.
Congressional President Luis Fernando Velasco, however, said the car was no longer Senate property, because it was sold at an auction in 2014 to the company Comercializadora Naves Limitada.
Subsequent inquiries have revealed that nearly 80 Congressional vehicles previously sold at auctions have retained their official license plates and registrations.
InSight Crime Analysis
Rojas Morera's case raises several troubling possibilities. Chief among them is that Colombia's criminal bands, known in Spanish as "bandas criminales" or BACRIM, have penetrated the country's national legislature. Police say Los Puntilleros send drugs from Guaviare department to Cartagena and Puerto Cabello in Venezuela, where they are shipped onward to the United States and Europe.
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Los Puntilleros' presumed leader, Mauricio Pachón, is considered an heir to Daniel "El Loco" Barrera, who built a drug empire in the Eastern Plains and beyond. Due to the scale of his organization's operations, it is plausible Pachón had amassed enough power to corrupt not only local politicians but national-level politicians from the region as well.
This case also highlights the potential for government resources to end up in the wrong hands.
As part of her job as finance director, Magdalena Morera would have overseen the transfer of Senate assets -- such as used cars -- to companies like Comercializadora Naves Limitada. It is quite suspicious that the car in question came to be in her son's possession.
Indeed, that so many former government vehicles have managed to retain their official documentation, thereby making them valuable assets for criminal groups seeking to move contraband unmolested, suggests either a certain level of corruption or gross incompetence among Congressional representatives.