A former chief justice of Colombia’s Supreme Court has been found guilty of corruption in a case that illustrates how the highest levels of judicial power in the country were able to form a criminal enterprise.
Francisco Ricaurte was convicted March 9 of running a network known as the “Cartel de la Toga,” or “Cartel of the Robe,” in which judges and lawyers accepted bribes in exchange for providing political elites with favorable outcomes, El Tiempo reported. Ricaurte was a judge on the court from 2004 to 2012 and served as its president in 2008.
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Others convicted of taking part in the bribery scheme include anti-corruption prosecutor Luis Gustavo Moreno and lawyer Leonardo Pinilla. Also charged in the case were former Supreme Court justices Camilo Tarquino and Gustavo Malo Fernández. Former Supreme Court President José Leonidas Bustos has also been accused of being part of the group, but he denies the accusation.
Prosecutors say that the Cartel de la Toga gave politicians — including congressmen and governors – little or no jail time in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Cartel de la Toga, of which Ricaurte was the ringleader, had all the hallmarks of an organized crime structure.
The judge who convicted Ricaurte said witness testimony showed that he actively looked for clients, determined the amount of money to be collected, and dictated which steps should be taken, El Tiempo reported. Additionally, the judge said, Ricaurte corrupted other officials for his personal benefit.
Notable cases involving the corruption network included that of Alejandro Lyons, the former governor of Córdoba, who was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison for embezzlement of 10 billion pesos (about $2.7 million) from the department’s coffers.
Lyons, who was facing 20 charges, sought the help of Pinilla and Moreno, but he ended up cooperating with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2017, at a Miami mall, agents watched as Lyons handed over an envelope with $10,000 to Pinilla. Pinilla then met with Moreno, who took the envelope.
Thanks to his collaboration with the DEA, Lyons is currently free in the United States.
Other cases tainted by the corruption network include those of former senators Musa Besaile and Álvaro Ashton. Besaile, who testified against Ricaurte, paid two billion Colombian pesos (about $560,000) to former prosecutor Moreno to ensure that a Supreme Court investigation of his alleged paramilitary ties came out in his favor. Ashton handed the network over 300 million pesos (about $84,000) to shelve the case.
“This wasn’t sophisticated corruption,” said the judge who convicted Ricaurte. “This is simple, vile corruption.”