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Cablegate: Prosecutor Sinks Case Against Corrupt Admiral

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DE RUEHBO #3375/01 3172020
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R 132020Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0849
INFO RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0187
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0674
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RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0564
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RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 003375

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/13
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KJUS CO
SUBJECT: PROSECUTOR SINKS CASE AGAINST CORRUPT ADMIRAL

CLASSIFIED BY: William R. Brownfield, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: The Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia) and the
Inspector General's Office (Procuraduria) unexpectedly reversed
course and called for all charges to be dropped in the case against
retired Rear Admiral GarbrielArangoBacci for alleged links with
narco-trafficking. In addition, both legal entities are now
calling for an investigation of Navy Commander Guillermo Barrera,
who relieved ArangoBacci and referred his case to the civilian
criminal courts. While respecting Colombian jurisprudence,
Ambassador Brownfield publicly asserted that the USG had a
legitimate interest in the case in which ArangoBacci is accused of
leaking to narco-traffickers the details of U.S. and Colombian
interdiction patrols. The Ambassador also commended the Navy for
pressing the case against ArangoBacci transparently through the
civilian justice system. In response to the Ambassador's
statement, a hostile Supreme Court magistrate accused him of
meddling in a domestic issue. If ArangoBacci is released, it
effectively sends the message that flag-rank officers are nearly
immune from prosecution, which could have a negative impact on
human rights cases involving senior military officials. End
Summary.

2. (C) Rear Admiral Gabriel ArangoBacci was forced to retire in
2007 on suspicion of drug trafficking, based on convincing evidence
that he had conspired with drug traffickers to help them evade U.S.
and Colombian interdiction patrols. A military tribunal found
ArangoBacci guilty of accepting a $115,000 bribe in exchange for
alerting drug traffickers to patrol coordinates and even ordering
the movement of a Colombian frigate. Navy Commander Admiral
Guillermo Barrera took the additional step of referring Arango
Bacci's case to the civilian Prosecutor General's Office for
criminal charges; the case was nearing a guilty verdict by
mid-2009. However, in an unusual turn of events, on November 3 a
prosecutor newly assigned to the case by Acting Prosecutor General
Guillermo Mendoza Diago petitioned the Supreme Court to absolve
ArangoBacci. The new prosecutor claimed the investigation had not
provenArangoBacci's guilt, adding that Admiral Barrera had
falsely accused ArangoBacci to ruin his naval career - an
assertion the defendant has made since his arrest. A prosecutor
assigned to the Prosecutor General's office alleged that witnesses
againstArangoBacci were tainted because "they had contact with
the DEA and CIA." Both the Prosecutor General's Office and the
Inspector General's Office denounced the Navy for framing Arango
Bacci and have called on the Supreme Court to investigate Admiral
Barrera and other senior officers for falsifying evidence.

3. (C) During a justice sector conference in Boyaca Department on
November 5, the Ambassador raised the case privately with the
Supreme Court President, Prosecutor General, and Inspector General.
He also told press that, while the case was a matter for the
Colombian courts to decide, the United States maintained a clear
interest in its outcome. He commended Colombian Navy leadership
for referring the case to civilian prosecutors, thus avoiding
accusations of a cover-up. The Ambassador also privately raised
the issue with Minister of Defense Silva, who thanked the
Ambassador for his public statement in a corruption case that had
damaged the military's reputation. Silva said that if he was to
prosecute senior officers for abuses, he needed some public
support. In response to the Ambassador's comments, Supreme Court
Magistrate Alfredo Gomez Quintero - a consistent foe of extradition
and of U.S. policy in Colombia - blasted him for interfering in an
internal matter and demanded that the Ambassador present the
alleged evidence implicating Arango. Supreme Court President
Augusto Ibanez, however, publicly downplayed the Ambassador's
comments. On November 9, the Supreme Court's Penal Chamber denied
a defense motion to grant conditional liberty for ArangoBacci
while his case is being resolved.

4. (C) COMMENT: It is not clear what prompted the Prosecutor
General's Office and Inspector General's about face on Arango
Bacci, though many Ministry of Defense officials suspect corruption
is involved. Embassy contacts have told us that, despite the
Court's refusal to release ArangoBacci, the concurrence of both
the Prosecutor General and Inspector General for dismissal make it
highly likely that the case will be dropped. DEA cautions that the
criminal case against the rear admiral began as an intelligence
case and, as a result, was never rock-solid. The initial
intelligence suggesting Arango'snarco-trafficking links could not

be presented as evidence in the criminal proceedings - essentially
creating an opportunity for the Fiscalia to find shortcomings with
the case. Still, the sudden insignificance of 150 pages of
previously submitted evidence is disturbing. The call to absolve
ArangoBacci and to investigate the whistleblowers are serious
setbacks for the Colombian justice system. Moreover, we are keenly
aware of the wider message here that trying a flag-rank officer in
Colombia is not only difficult but also risky, a serious concern as
the USG pushes for prosecution of high-level military officers
accused of human rights abuses. End Comment.
BROWNFIELD

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