The emergence of allegations made by an incarcerated drug baron that he funded the political activities of Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe comes as a timely reminder of the country's vulnerability to drug money influence in the run-up to national elections.
Colombia's Supreme Court has requested that Congress and prosecutors evaluate testimony given by former Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) leader Diego Montoya, alias "Don Diego," in which he claimed to have funded Uribe's presidential campaign, reported Vanguardia.
Speaking to investigators from his Arizona prison last year, Don Diego provided a list of politicians he said had taken cartel money. Among them were several other prominent figures, including former President of the Senate Carlos Holguin Sardi and former Valle del Cauca Governor Juan Carlos Abadia.
Uribe, who is preparing to stand for a seat in the Senate in March elections, has responded by threatening legal action over the claims, reported Caracol.
InSight Crime Analysis
Don Diego's testimony adds to a litany of accusations made against Uribe over the years, among them that he received funding from the paramilitary umbrella organization the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) during his 2002 presidential campaign. So far, none of these allegations have resulted in the successful prosecution of the ex-president, and this is unlikely to change as a result of the latest claims.
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Don Diego was the leader of the Machos faction of the NVDC. Following the demobilization of the AUC, the Machos emerged as one of the prototype paramilitary-drug trafficking hybrid organizations labeled by the government BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation for "criminal bands.")
In 2011, after being crippled by years of drug-fuelled wars and the loss of many of its leaders, the Machos sold off what remained of their territory and were absorbed by the most powerful criminal organization in Colombia -- the Urabeños. However, other BACRIM continue to seriously threaten the legitimacy of Colombian political institutions and the electoral process.
Although the BACRIM's reach is not as extensive as that of the now defunct AUC -- whose tentacles spread to all levels of national and local politics -- figures are still alarmingly high for electoral fraud or violent voter repression in areas where they operate (see Colombia Reports' maps above and below).
As well as having a history of funding political campaigns with dirty money and influencing voters with bribes or threats, the BACRIM are known to control politicians on a local level to gain protection, access to intelligence, and collaboration in illegal activities such as extortion and illegal enrichment.