Colombia arrested a former Supreme Court judge in a corruption case that reaches the highest echelons of the judicial system, underscoring one of the most crucial challenges the country faces even as it continues to make strides in improving security.
Former Supreme Court Judge Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez was arrested on September 20 on charges of criminal association, bribery, influence peddling and abuse of privileged information, Colombia's Attorney General's Office announced in a press release.
The arrest is part of an investigation into a network allegedly composed of some of the highest-ranking judicial officials in the country, who have been accused of receiving massive sums of money in exchange for blocking the progress of important cases.
The scandal broke in June when the United States announced an extradition request for the prosecutor formerly in charge of the anti-corruption unit, Luis Gustavo Moreno -- somewhat ironically, on corruption charges.
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On September 19, the day before Ricaurte's arrest, Moreno appeared in court along with Senator Musa Besaile. Besaile is one of several members of parliament accused of bribing judicial officials to stall investigations, but he is the only one to have admitted paying Moreno.
Besaile insisted that Moreno extorted 2 billion pesos (nearly $700,000) from him to stop the issuing of an arrest warrant, reported El Colombiano. Moreno, meanwhile, insisted that this sum represented "lawyer's fees."
Besaile also reiterated accusations that both Ricaurte and another former Supreme Court judge, Leonidas Bustos, were involved in the scheme. Moreno contested Besaile's claims concerning Bustos, but said that out of the 2 billion pesos, 550 million pesos (nearly $200,000) were directly handed over to Ricaurte, according to Semana.
Moreno also added that a current Supreme Court judge, Gustavo Malo, knew about the dealings. Malo was until recently in charge of the stalled "parapolitics" investigation, which centers around politicians' ties with Colombia's demobilized paramiltary groups. Besaile has been implicated in the parapolitics scandal.
In addition to Besaile, authorities are investigating whether Moreno similarly took bribes from two parliament members, Hernán Andrade and Álvaro Ashton. And former parliament member Julio Manzur claims he twice refused offers by Moreno to bury an investigation in exchange for 2 billion pesos, according to El Espectador.
US authorities, meanwhile, claim to have recordings of Moreno receiving bribes from yet another politician, the former governor of the state of Córdoba, Alejandro Llyons Muskus.
InSight Crime Analysis
While still in its early days, this corruption scandal is already being described by Colombian media as the gravest ever to hit Colombia's Supreme Court. And the recent revelations indicate the possibility of coming arrests of other high court judges.
In addition to involving figures at the highest echelons of the judiciary, this unfolding case is concerning because the allegations suggest the repetition of a consistent pattern of corruption involving several top judicial officials, which could point to a long-running scheme operated by a structured network.
Furthermore, the case involves powerful political elites seemingly engaged in perverting the course of justice at the highest level. This serves as a reminder that despite recording its lowest homicide rates in more than four decades, demobilizing paramilitary groups and ending a 50-year long civil war in recent years, Colombia still faces significant challenges in terms of tackling widespread corruption, particularly within institutions that are key to consolidating its hard-earned security gains.