Authorities in Colombia have broken up a "cartel of judges" that accepted large bribes from criminals in return for more lenient sentences, in a case that highlights the corrosive impact of organized crime and corruption on the region's judicial institutions.
The operation followed an investigation by Colombia's judicial police (DIJIN) into affairs at the Paloquemao judicial complex in Bogota, and led to the arrest of 11 judicial officials, among them two judges, reported El Universal.
There are conflicting accounts of how the ring came to light and how it operated. Sources told El Espectador that officials first became aware of the practice after an extradited criminal brought it to the attention of US authorities, who informed their Colombian counterparts. According to the newspaper, the investigation had been ongoing for a year and found officials charging criminals between $1,000 and $1,600 to act favorably towards them.
However, according to El Tiempo, the group charged up to $27,000 and was discovered after the group approached a court official overseeing the random system used to assign cases to judges. After being offered money to send certain cases to certain judges, the official denounced the scam and went undercover to expose the group.
InSight Crime Analysis
This "cartel of judges" underlines the judicial corruption that blights many Latin American countries and fuels impunity. In Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Bolivia, examples of such corruption have emerged in recent years, while a report from Mexico in early 2012 found that judicial reform in the country was failing to address corruption effectively. Irregularity in the judicial process also hit the agenda recently in Mexico following the controversial release of cartel boss Rafael Caro Quintero.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Judicial Reform
Corrupting the judiciary is just one way organized crime has managed to subvert the justice system, with infiltration of security services also a major obstacle to justice. In 2011, endemic corruption was uncovered in Colombia's Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which was offering to wipe out criminal records for a fee, in addition to selling personal details of undercover agents and informants to drug trafficking organizations. The DAS was subsequently shut down as a result of a series of scandals.