Colombian Prosecutor Investigating FARC Is Accused of Taking Bribe for Ex-Rebel
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A Colombian prosecutor assigned to investigate the country’s largest former rebel group was arrested and accused of accepting a bribe in the case of a former rebel commander wanted in the United States, the authorities said Friday.
The prosecutor, Carlos J. Bermeo, had been assigned to a special court established to try cases of war crimes from the five-decade conflict between the government and rebels, which left at least 220,000 people dead and ended in a 2016 peace deal signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
But Mr. Bermeo, according to prosecutors, accepted money to stymie an extradition case involving a former member of the FARC, Jesús Santrich, who was arrested last year on charges that he had continued trafficking drugs after the group laid down its arms and given up its illegal activities.
The Colombian attorney general’s office said it arrested Mr. Bermeo and four others at two hotels in Bogotá the moment they were about to receive a payment of $500,000.
The arrest delivered a new blow to implementing the contentious peace deal, whose critics include President Iván Duque.
Mr. Duque campaigned against the accords before he took the presidency and has been particularly critical of the special court, which he has said would be too lenient toward former rebels. The court is known in Colombia by its acronym, JEP, and on Friday the hashtag #JEPAccomplicesOfFARC began trending.
“It seems quite serious to me, a deplorable case of corruption,” Mr. Duque said in a news conference on Friday.
The special court issued a statement condemning any crimes that might have been committed but also distancing itself from the case, saying it had no jurisdiction over Mr. Santrich’s extradition.
Yet in another twist, one of the men also accused of taking bribes to aid Mr. Santrich was Luis Alberto Gil, an ex-senator with many friends in Mr. Duque’s conservative coalition.
Mr. Santrich, the former rebel leader, has long been a source of resentment in Colombia. A blind guerrilla whose real name is Zeuxis Hernández, Mr. Santrich had become a familiar face in his country, serving for years as a negotiator for the FARC. He was later granted a congressional seat as part of the peace deal.
He was arrested last April on charges that he planned to export 10 tons of cocaine. The United States requested his extradition, though it has not released evidence in the case.
The FARC, now a political party that preaches nonviolence, made no immediate comment on the case. In the past, it has said that Mr. Santrich was framed by those trying to discredit the peace deal.
At the time of Mr. Santrich’s arrest, many in Colombia took it as a sign that members of the FARC had not negotiated in good faith. Adding to those concerns, many rebels have returned to arms and formed alliances with drug trafficking organizations. Other top leaders have gone missing since the peace deal, leading to speculation that they have joined the dissident factions.