A former Colombia governor accused of several murders and links to paramilitary groups came very close to being freed from jail, a reminder of the scope of the influence this ex-official once wielded in the country's northeast.
A judge in the city of Barranquilla recently accepted a habeas corpus request from Juan Francisco "Kiko" Gomez, which would have freed the former governor of Colombia's northeast La Guajira province, reported El Tiempo. However, authorities refused to release Gomez because of a standing warrant for his arrest and a summons for questioning involving a murder case, reported El Espectador.
Gomez was captured in October 2013 for his alleged involvement in a string of murders and other crimes committed over a period of several decades. Gomez allegedly worked closely with Marcos "Marquitos" Figueroa, the leader of a contraband smuggling network, who was the most wanted criminal figure in northeast Colombia before his capture in October 2014.
Colombia's Attorney General's Office has opened an investigation into the judge who ordered Gomez's release, reported Semana.
InSight Crime Analysis
Gomez's near release from prison is likely a reflection of the amount of power he wielded as a corrupt politician in Colombia's northeast, the epicenter of a lucrative contraband trade fueled by products from Venezuela. Gomez was a career politician who -- from a young age -- allegedly mixed with local criminal figures, including Marquitos, and established a stake in the regional contraband trade. In 2001, Gomez was among a group of local contraband bosses who reportedly began negotiations with paramilitary groups to divvy up control of smuggling operations. However, Gomez would only reach the height of his power years later with the help of his former partner, Marquitos.
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When Marquitos returned to Colombia at some point after 2008 -- following a self-imposed exile to Venezuela -- the two allegedly killed off numerous political opponents in the region, according to prosecutors. Marquitos also allegedly used proceeds from his thriving contraband gasoline enterprise to help fund Gomez's 2011 gubernatorial campaign. Once in office, Gomez reportedly repaid Marquitos by providing him with political protection for his contraband business.
According to El Espectador, Gomez is currently under investigation for seven murders, including that of a former mayor in La Guajira. He has been implicated in a number of other homicides as well.