Senior officers from Colombia’s Fourth Brigade are implicated in a corruption ring that includes the sale of gun permits to organized crime leaders, reflecting the insidious levels of corruption and impunity that continue to plague the ranks of the Colombian army.
Between 2015 and 2018, the timeframe
under investigation, the Fourth Brigade granted special gun licenses to
60 individuals with police or court records, according to El Colombiano. Additionally, many of these permits did not appear within Colombia’s Arms Trade Control Department (Departamento Control Comercio de Armas – DCCA) database.
Four active ranking officers, two retired officers, and three civilian contractors, have been arrested in connection to a scheme to sell gun permits to individuals not legally entitled to carry them.
Those arrested are also accused of misusing over $900,000 in public funds and illegally assigning military contracts.
This is not the Fourth Brigade’s
first corruption scandal. Human rights activists and the US Embassy have
questioned the integrity and apparent impunity of the Army’s Fourth
Brigade for more than two decades, reporting collusion with paramilitaries dating back to the mid-1990s, participation in the El Aro Massacre in 1997, and extrajudicial killings from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
InSight Crime Analysis
This lucrative criminal economy shows
the full extent of corruption within the army, especially as these
officers were helping to arm the very criminals their troops could have
been called on to fight. In March, the Colombian army created a special taskforce, codenamed Phoenix, to fight gangs in the Valle de Aburrá.
It has also become clear that the
government and senior military command are having serious trouble
keeping troops in order, since these officers operated this weapon
permit scheme without higher-ups or rank-and-file troops noticing.
Although the investigation is still
at an early stage, several reports state the criminal network within the
Fourth Brigade was able to hide its operation
by hiring people without criminal records to request weapons with
adulterated forms for third parties linked to criminal groups such as
the Urabeños, Pachelly, Picacho, Niquía Camacol, and Triana.
While this inquiry also only covers
the period between 2015-2018, other investigations indicate that these
illegal permits have been issued since 2000, as established by El Colombiano.
The permits allowed criminals to access Llama .38 revolvers, Jericho
and Beretta pistols, and some Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolvers.
The Fourth Brigade’s new general, Juvenal Díaz, clarified that these events took place before he took charge of the unit and announced
that a new transparency plan will be established to escalate corruption
investigations. However, it is still unclear what the scope of this new
investigation will be and who will oversee it, a crucial fact given how
previous such commissions have not reached any definitive conclusions.
The Commission for Military Excellence was created in May by president Iván Duque to investigate the alleged return of extra-judicial killings after Human Rights Watch discovered he had appointed a number of generals linked to the “false positives” scandal, where Colombian troops killed innocents and disguised them as guerrilla fighters. The results of this commission, which denied any new reports of extrajudicial killings by the army in 2019, were dismissed by Human Rights Watch, which argued that important evidence was deliberately omitted or mistaken.
Considering that the Fourth Brigade is also under investigation by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción
Especial Para la Paz – JEP) for its role in extra-judicial killings,
there will likely be increased scrutiny of the judicial proceedings and
the investigations surrounding this case.