Colombian AG Vivian Morales on corruption, intelligence reform, and Colombia's reduced homicide rate.

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Aug. 29 2011 3:36 PM

"Attorney General of Colombia Is a Very Dangerous Job"

Vivian Morales on corruption, intelligence reform, and Colombia's reduced homicide rate.

Vivian Morales.
Vivian Morales

Colombia's new attorney general, Vivian Morales, sat down in Bogota last week with the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts are printed below:

L.W. This week the Post ran a story which suggested that some of the U.S. aid for Plan Colombia intended to fight the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] was used by the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to spy on [former] President [Alvaro] Uribe's enemies. Is this a case you are working on?

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V.M. The  investigation  was opened two years ago because illegal interceptions were done by the intelligence organization, DAS, on justices of the Supreme Court, political opposition and some journalists.

L.W. The heart of the recent allegation is that U.S. aid intended to fight the FARC was diverted to spying on opposition members by DAS.

V.M. The prosecution's investigation has nothing to do with the deviation of funds. You can't say that these funds were deviated to use for this illegal activity. What was deviated was the authority and power of this intelligence agency.

L.W. Reportedly, there is a widening investigation by the Colombian attorney general's office against the Department of Administrative Services.

V.M. Yes. I am investigating directors and ex-directors of DAS, the intelligence agency of the state. But I repeat—this is an investigation of illegal actions but not of funding deviations.

L.W. What was the motive for the spying? Why was the Uribe administration so worried about the opposition?

V.M. It was a polarizing time—especially when the Supreme Court of Justice initiated investigations against congressmen who [had ties to] paramilitary groups. This [involved] a great number of congressmen who belonged to Uribe's party.

L.W. You and your predecessor have put quite a number of people in jail?

V.M. The investigations have gone on for two years. There are 20 prosecutions being judged at the moment. There are 28 people in jail.

L.W. And that includes [former] President Uribe's chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno?Yes.So it was a corrupt organization?

V.M. The DAS, resulting from this scandal, suffered a transformation. There is a new intelligence law and a new organization being created, and DAS will be finished.

L.W. You were appointed when?

V.M. Seven months ago.

L.W. So your predecessor initiated many of these investigations?

V.M. Yes, but I had to initiate the lawsuits against the highest officials—the ex-
director of the DAS and the ex-chief of staff of the presidency.

L.W. How far are you prepared to go? 

V.M. In this case, the attorney general has investigated the main heads [of the intelligence agency] involved in this illegal activity. I think they are all within the 28. Some medium-rank officials are still being investigated.

L.W. The question everyone is asking is: Did Uribe know what was going on?

V.M. I cannot even ask this question to myself because I cannot legally investigate this. Only Congress can investigate it.

L.W. Is Moreno the highest person under investigation? The minister of agriculture is also in jail. What for?

V.M. In this case, the state was giving subsidies to people in agriculture. There were abuses regarding these funds. They were distributed among very rich people. They stole about 30 billion pesos [$17 million].

L.W. Are there threats against you?

V.M. Attorney general of Colombia is a very dangerous job. Not only because of these investigations, but we investigate people who do terrorist acts, paramilitaries and criminal gangs. So my work in general means a lot of enemies.

L.W. Colombia is a very violent country, isn't it? 

V.M. Historically it has been considered a violent country. But homicide rates have gone down significantly in the last decade.

L.W. How are you dealing with the paramilitaries?

V.M. The attorney general's office is making a huge effort to clear up the truth on subjects relating specifically to paramilitaries and guerillas.

L.W. What have you found out?

V.M. There is a special law called Justice and Peace [under which] 2,000 people who belonged to the paramilitary groups—these are commanders and they have confessed to 28,000 crimes. They are giving their version on each of these crimes to be able to go before courts and get a sentence.

L.W. How did you persuade them to do this?

V.M. Through the Justice and Peace process from 2005, initiated by Uribe, in which in exchange for leaving the paramilitaries and confessing all of their crimes, giving reparations to victims, asking forgiveness from society, then—although they have a sentence of 40 years— that sentence may [be] change[d] to an eight-year sentence. This is how so many paramilitaries gave up arms. This is part of how we reduced homicides because massacres [that they had committed] have been reduced.

L.W. How are you doing with the criminal gangs?

V.M. This is the main challenge we are facing. The criminal gangs are involved with drug trafficking and also other crimes—like extortion. They generate a lot of insecurity within the cities like Cali and Medellin.

L.W. So you pursue them?

V.M. In the last year we sent out 900 warrants. Four hundred members of the criminal gangs have been captured.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.