Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Colombia admits to military corruption

HIGH-LEVEL The Colombian defense minister says that cocaine cartels have bribed the upper echelons of the military for information that has helped them evade capture


Cocaine smugglers and leftist rebels have infiltrated senior levels of the Colombian army, impeding efforts at defeating the guerrillas and fighting drugs, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said on Monday.

The nation's largest rebel force and its main cocaine cartel have bribed officials "at a high level" into sharing information that has helped bosses of both illegal groups avoid capture, Santos told reporters.

Colombia remains the world's biggest exporter of cocaine despite billions of dollars in mostly military aid from Washington aimed at stamping out the trade.

"Unfortunately, the infiltration has impeded us from capturing some of the big fish we had been investigating," Santos said.

Some military officials have been captured in the case and more arrests were expected, he said.

Earlier this month, the army discovered classified military information in computer files of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas who died in combat with state security forces.

The information could only have come from a mole placed highly in the military hierarchy, officials said.

Also implicated in the scandal is Diego Montoya, head of the Norte del Valle cartel.

Featured on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, Montoya is accused of exporting hundreds of tonnes of cocaine to the US.

Investigators say he recruited army officers to provide him with protection and help plan the breakout of his brother, Eugenio Montoya, who has been in a high-security prison since the start of the year.

This Andean country is regularly jolted by revelations involving its multibillion-dollar cocaine trade.

Last year, 10 anti-narcotics police were gunned down by soldiers in the pay of drug traffickers near the western town of Jamundi, prosecutors charge.

In other developments, a gold bathtub, a polar bear throw rug, imported furniture and a wine cellar full of rare vintages are some of the fabulous items police seized in two homes of paramilitary fugitive Vicente Castano, a court official said on Monday.

The two luxury apartments in Medellin -- valued at almost US$13 million -- were raided by order of the Prosecutor's Office as part of the government's campaign to compensate some 9,000 victims of paramilitary violence over the past 20 years, the official said.

The items found in the apartments, one of which belonged to Castano's brother Carlos -- whom Vicente allegedly ordered to be killed to take over his organization -- will be sold to raise funds for the victims.

Vicente Castano has been sought by the authorities for his brother's murder since last August, when he failed to turn himself in as part of a demobilization agreement the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia reached with the authorities.

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