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Listen: Corrupt Colombia Judges Discuss Trading Favors

COLOMBIA / 23 MAR 2015 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

In the latest twist in a corruption scandal that has rocked Colombia's justice system, the former head of the Constitutional Court was revealed to have asked "nasty" favors of a judge allegedly linked to drug trafficking group the Urabeños.

President of Colombia's Constitutional Court Jorge Pretelt, who had previously faced accusations he solicited a $200,000 bribe from an oil company, is now facing fresh allegations of corruption after RCN Radio published damning wiretap recordings implicating the former judge.

The recordings, dated from several years ago, include a conversation between Pretelt and Carlos Martínez Isaza, a judge under investigation at the time for alleged ties to leaders of the Urabeños. In the recordings, Pretelt tells Martinez that he was able to get him a promotion. 

(The music playing in the background of this audio clip, which InSight Crime has edited for clarity, is the RCN radio theme song). "Look, your thing was ready today, hear me?" Pretelt tells Martinez in the phone call. "What is it?" Martinez asks. "It's a legal assistant in the court," Pretelt responds. Martinez then asks if the position is in the Attorney General's delegate unit to the Supreme Court, and Pretelt tells him yes, adding, "It's really important."

In another phone call recording, Martinez complains to a woman that Pretelt wanted "bad" favors in exchange for the promotion.

"They're helping me get a position, to promote me a little bit, but they're extorting me," Martinez says, adding, "And [they're] asking me favors that aren't very correct... Ave maria! I'm sad with this because imagine, they'd persuaded me, they were going to get me a position where I could retire and all that, but they're asking nasty favors of me, and I didn't do them, so..."

According to El Espectador and Semana, those "favors" were related to manipulating the outcome of certain legal cases that involved gang leaders. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The audio recordings clearly show the kind of influence peddling that Pretelt engaged in. It remains to be proven that he was indeed planting judicial officials sympathetic to criminal groups in the Attorney General's Office, in order to better manipulate cases related to the Urabeños.

The Urabeños' ability to corrupt state institutions is well established, with ample examples involving security forces, politicians, and prosecutors. However, it is rare for such a high-ranking judge like Pretelt, who was nominated to the position by ex-President Alvaro Uribe and elected by Congress, to become embroiled in such a scandal.

SEE ALSO: The Victory of the Urabeños: The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The new recordings also threaten to escalate the oil bribery scandal, which has already prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to propose new reforms banning lobbying in the court system and providing new powers to suspend suspect judges.

Elyssa Pachico contributed to this story. 

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