Accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo, alias "Memo Fantasma," has been granted his liberty from a maximum-security prison in Bogotá after winning his release from pre-trial detention, despite being a flight risk and amid indications of corruption and witness-tampering.
"The right to freedom is a fundamental right and is seen as the guiding principle of our accusatory criminal justice system,” said judge Gueyler Quintero Osorio. “In this case, Mr. Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo should regain his freedom.”
Acevedo is facing charges of money laundering and criminal conspiracy, and he could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if found guilty. His trial is set to continue in October.
Acevedo maintains his innocence and insists that the whole case is one of mistaken identity. However, more than a dozen sources consulted by InSight Crime over the last four years stated that Acevedo was a member of the Medellín Cartel; then part of the criminal group that emerged after the death of Pablo Escobar, the Oficina de Envigado; and finally became a commander in the paramilitary army of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Colombians.
The latest ruling comes after what appears to be a catalog of missteps by prosecutor Julio César Ochoa, who along with his boss Carlos Enrique Vieda, suspended arrest warrants for two close associates of Acevedo. Ochoa also fumbled a hearing to get an extension to Acevedo's pre-trial detention, and he did not appeal the latest decision granting the suspected drug lord his liberty.
"This is not unusual," said a prosecutor monitoring the case. "One gets the feeling this has been orchestrated and this can only be the result of complete incompetence or outright corruption."
Another prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he believed that money had changed hands. There have already been indications of bribery in connection with the case. In June 2021, a report surfaced that an attempt had been made to bribe an investigator in the Attorney General's Office. An investigator reported being offered 100 million Colombian pesos (around $23,000) to hand over case files.
Ochoa took over the case in March from Juan David Huepe, an experienced prosecutor who may have been removed by Vieda. Huepe would not make any formal comment when contacted by InSight Crime. Vieda appointed Ochoa, a prosecutor with no experience in money laundering cases.
Documents on the case obtained by InSight Crime show that the case against Acevedo built by Huepe was very strong, with more evidence expected after some high-profile arrests and declarations by other senior paramilitaries. The arrest warrants have since been suspended, and the declarations have not been taken.
"This decision was already coming since the change of prosecutor. The current prosecutor is an absolute incompetent, who has been reproached by three different judges. The whole thing is simply incredible," said alias, "Charlie" who worked for Acevedo in his drug trafficking business for 12 years. Charlie has been following every aspect of the case, having contacted InSight Crime after the publication of our 2020 investigation. He used to make payments to police, politicians, and members of the Attorney General's Office on Acevedo's behalf. He fears that Acevedo, once free, will make another attempt on his life in order to silence him.
Charlie told InSight Crime that several underworld figures, who had worked with Acevedo in both Colombia and the United States, had received phone calls from him in prison, or via emissaries, telling them to keep their mouths shut.
InSight Crime investigations have shown that Acevedo has at least $30 million dollars in bank accounts, properties, and investments in Colombia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Underworld contacts in Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and Venezuela, might also be able to help him evade justice.
*In the interests of full transparency, it should be noted that author Jeremy McDermott was the subject of a criminal libel lawsuit presented by Guillermo León Acevedo, which was shelved by the Colombian Attorney General's Office in December 2021 for lack of evidence.