A former governor in Colombia was sentenced to 55 years in prison for ordering a criminal group to kill his political enemies, a positive sign that the country's judicial system is capable of prosecuting politicians who have deep ties to organized crime.
On January 17, a judge in Bogotá found the former governor of La Guajira, Juan Francisco "Kiko" Gómez Cerchar, responsible for killing Yandra Brito, her husband Henry Ustáriz Guerra and bodyguard Wilfrido Fonseca Peñaranda, reported El Espectador.
Gómez had handpicked Brito to be the new mayor of Barrancas, but once elected she allegedly refused to follow Gómez's agenda. As a retaliation against her political betrayal the former governor ordered the assassination of Ustáriz and Fonseca in April 2008, and Brito herself in August 2012. The three were killed by a criminal gang led by Marcos de Jesús Figueroa, alias "Marquitos," a powerful contraband leader and drug trafficker who was reportedly linked to criminal organization the Urabeños and worked as Gómez's criminal partner.
Gómez was arrested in October 2013 for these crimes and for his links to local paramilitary groups. The former governor also remains under investigation for possible ties to the deaths of Luis López Peralta, a city councilor in Barrancas, and two other individuals, according to El Espectador.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sentencing of a politician as powerful and well-connected as Gómez is a victory for the Colombian judicial system. Over the years, Gómez managed to establish close alliances with some of the region's most prominent criminal groups. Investigative news website Verdad Abierta reported that Gómez was part of a group of local contraband bosses, while a paramilitary interviewed by Semana stated that the former governor had worked with paramilitary chief Rodrigo Tovar, alias "Jorge 40."
In addition, Marquitos had reportedly backed Gómez before the 2011 gubernatorial election and had turned into the governor's personal hitman. Gómez is also a relative of Jorge Gnecco Cechar, a businessman and paramilitary associate of Salvatore Mancuso, and is believed to have worked with contraband czar Samuel Santander Lopesierra, who was extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Despite these deep ties, it was no slam-dunk that Gómez would be convicted. In April 2015, he came very close to being released after a judge in the city of Barranquilla accepted his habeas corpus request. While the authorities did not allow Gómez to leave jail because of a standing warrant for his arrest, the near release showed the influence Gómez still enjoyed in La Guajira.