A new investigation has revealed that dozens of high-level criminals in Colombia have obtained false identities in order to stay ahead of authorities.
Between 2011 and 2019, at least 42 leaders of large criminal organizations arrested in Colombia maintained anywhere from two to four different identities, El Colombiano reported.
Most simply carried fake "cédulas," or ID cards. Others managed to change their names at registration offices, had multiple official IDs with different names, or had fake passports. A few took on the identities of dead people, according to the newspaper's investigation.
The most recent instance cited in the report involves Luis Rodrigo Rodríguez, alias “El Montañero,” leader of the El Mesa gang operating out of Bello, a town north of Medellín. At the time of his capture, on October 26, authorities found original documents under three different names that he had used for almost 20 years.
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Criminals of all stripes were recorded having false identities, including members of crime groups like La Oficina, los Pachelly, and el Mesa. Thirteen were part of Los Urabeños drug mafia, and two were guerrillas with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN). One was identified as a dissident member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
They may have paid anywhere between $120 and $60,000 for their false identities, depending on the quality and types of documents required, according to El Colombiano.
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Fraudulent identifications can be obtained through two sources: corrupt officials in the agencies that issue IDs, or dedicated fabricators of IDs.
According to an audit of the National Registry conducted by the Attorney General’s Office over the past three years, 36 officials at registry offices have been sanctioned for providing false IDs, passports, or registration documents.
According to Claudia Carrasquilla, a citizens’ security deputy for the Attorney General’s Office, criminals seek to change their identities upon discovering an arrest warrant, either because they have seen themselves on police posters or in the news when authorities make the warrant public.
Registry offices have also come under investigation for selling false identifications to Venezuelan migrants desperate to stay in Colombia.
In many cases, though, the identifications are simply fabricated. In downtown Medellín, there is a brisk black market in printing false IDs, according to the El Colombiano investigation. Within eight days, a new ID can be had, replete with photo and fingerprints.
For crime bosses, a second ID goes a long way to frustrating police during inspections and avoiding arrest.
In the case of “El Montañero,” his multiple identities kept him off a most wanted poster. According to the Police Directorate in Bogota, he was removed because his identities presented potential legal problems.