New documents in the case against accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo, alias “Memo Fantasma,” reveal that former top Colombian paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso spoke to prosecutors about Acevedo, and that convicted traffickers transferred properties worth millions to him.
Prosecutors have sought the testimony of five former paramilitaries in the case against Acevedo, who is charged with money laundering, criminal conspiracy and illicit enrichment, according to the 30-page charging document filed October 20.
Mancuso – the former top commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) who is serving a 15 years sentence in prison on US drug trafficking charges – gave a sworn statement to prosecutors from a Georgia prison on September 27, according to the court documents. The other former paramilitaries to speak to prosecutors were José German Sena Pico, alias “Nico”; Carlos Fernando Mateus Morales, alias “Paquita”; Rodrigo Alberto Zapata Sierra, alias “Ricardo”; and Rodrigo Pérez Álzate, alias “Julian Bolivar.”
The documents do not reveal what was said in those discussions, which took place between May and November 2020. But investigators' notes show that the paramilitaries all recognized photo evidence presented to them.
SEE ALSO: Memo Fantasma, Colombia’s Underworld Ghost, is Captured in Bogotá
A hearing in the case against Memo Fantasma, who has denied the charges against him, is scheduled for Thursday, October 28. At that hearing, a judge will decide whether to release him from pre-trial detention at a high-security prison in Bogotá. Also charged in the case are Acevedo’s mother, Margoth de Jesús Giraldo, and his grandmother, Maria Enriqueta Ramírez, both of whom are accused of laundering funds using a series of properties and businesses. They have also denied the charges and are currently under house arrest.
In the charging document, prosecutors detail real estate used in the suspected money laundering scheme, including 26 parcels in Colombia’s northern department of Córdoba. Prosecutors allege the properties – worth about 43.3 billion Colombian pesos (about $11.5 million) – can be traced back to convicted drug traffickers who later transferred them to companies owned by Acevedo and his family, according to the documents.
“They are registered to people who have been judged and/or convicted, including extradited, for crimes related to drug trafficking and the financing of groups outside of the law,” prosecutors state.
Offices and parking spaces at Bogotá’s luxury Torre 85 office building are also alleged by prosecutors to be assets from money laundering. The assets, valued at about 10.8 billion pesos (about $2.9 million), came from a construction deal conducted with the husband of Marta Lucía Ramírez, Colombia’s current vice president. According to prosecutors, Acevedo had a 45 percent stake in the project and Ramírez's husband, Alvaro Rincón, had a 45 percent stake as well.
The partnership was exposed by an InSight Crime investigation.
*Full Disclosure: Vice President Ramírez presented a criminal libel suit against InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott but later dropped it after we refused to change our reporting. McDermott is currently facing criminal libel proceedings brought by Guillermo Acevedo for the series, “The Invisible Drug Lord: Hunting the Ghost.” Acevedo has yet to provide any basis for his claims of libel and many of the accusations in the articles form the basis of the arrest warrant and case presented by the Colombian Attorney General’s office against Acevedo.
InSight Crime Analysis
The new court documents provide a glimpse into the case against Memo Fantasma, or “Will the Ghost,” who escaped prosecution for decades before InSight Crime discovered him living as a businessman in Spain.
Though Acevedo continues to deny any link to Colombia’s paramilitary groups, the inclusion of Mancuso in the case against him indicates that his paramilitary ties went to the top of the AUC, which killed thousands of people at the height of Colombia’s conflict and was the world’s largest cocaine trafficking group.
InSight Crime’s two-year investigation uncovered Acevedo’s history as "Sebastián Colmenares," the alias he used while directing the finances of the AUC’s strongest unit, the Central Bolívar Bloc (Bloque Central Bolívar – BCB).
The documents add to the picture of the real estate holdings allegedly used by Acevedo to launder drug money after he deliberately did not present himself for the AUC’s demobilization process with the government in the mid-2000s. Prosecutors’ allegations about the 26 parcels in Cordobá appear to be crucial to linking Acevedo to drug traffickers.
Other evidence of money laundering by Acevedo and his family includes, prosecutors allege, about 11.9 billion pesos ( about $3.2 million) in unexplained wealth.