Recently released wiretap recordings shed light on how an arms trafficking ring within the Colombian military sold hundreds of weapons to criminal gangs.
The recordings, which were obtained by investigative magazine Semana, involve two soldiers in charge of an Army battalion's arsenal in the city of Pereira. The soldiers negotiated the sale of military weapons with criminals, discussing prices, delivery, and how to cover their tracks.
In one recording, one of the soldiers discusses a deal with a man known as "Sebastian," a member of a local faction of Colombia's most powerful criminal network, the Urabeños. The pair talk about whether another gang member's criminal record would prevent him from purchasing a gun permit from the military.
"Tell him his criminal record is just for drugs, nothing else," says Sebastian. "Ok, fine, there are some records that you can do it with, but there are other more serious crimes, like homicide you can't," replies the solider. Reassured, the soldier later adds, "Ok, I'll find out how much it costs, what guns they're offering and I'll let you know."
At another point in the conversation, the soldier asks what brand of gun Sebastian prefers. "Just make sure they're pretty," Sebastian replies. "And small. Not the big ones."
In another recording, one of the soldiers, fearing discovery, attempts to bribe a colleague to alter the records to conceal the missing guns.
"You tell me a price and I'll get it for you, whatever price you want," he says. "This is so there won't be an investigation, you won't have any problems, I guarantee it," he adds.
The two soldiers are suspected of selling 406 stolen weapons, including 109 rifles, 188 revolvers, 87 pistols, 11 shotguns and three sub-machineguns, according to Semana. They were arrested earlier this month on charges of criminal conspiracy, arms trafficking and illegal possession of weapons.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Pereira case is far from the first example of arms trafficking rings operating from within the Colombian military.
Last year, a group of active and retired military, police, and civilians were accused of supplying military arms parts to the Urabeños, even using official transport to smuggle them. In 2013, four men, including active and former military officials, were arrested on charges of selling stolen military weapons to gangs in the city of Cali.
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It is not just Colombia's criminal groups that benefit from this corruption. In the past, army and police officials have even been accused of supplying arms to the insurgent group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who are involved in a decades-long conflict with the very same security forces.