Friday, February 26, 2021

Retired Colombian General Turns Himself In to U.S.

Colombian police chief Jose Roberto Leon Riano in Bogota in June, calling for Mauricio
Santoyo to give himself up. Photograph: Leonardo Mu Oz/EPA

BOGOTA—A retired Colombian police general turned himself in to U.S. authorities Tuesday to face charges that he was involved in drug trafficking while serving as the head of security under former President Alvaro Uribe.

Gen. Mauricio Santoyo is the first Colombian general ever to be indicted by U.S. authorities, but he is just the latest of several of Mr. Uribe’s former associates and family members to be accused of having drug ties.

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National Police Director Jose Roberto Leon Riano told reporters Tuesday that Gen. Santoyo “is heading to [the U.S.] at this very moment,” adding that the former police official’s attorneys voluntarily reached out to U.S. and Colombian authorities over the weekend to arrange for his hand-over.

Officials at the Department of Justice in Washington declined Tuesday to comment on the case. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota were unavailable to comment.

Gen. Santoyo’s attorney, Richard Diaz, said last week his client will deny the charges and declare his innocence.

The indictment against the former high-ranking police official by a federal court in Virginia was made public last month. It alleges that for at least some nine years, from 2000 to 2008, Gen. Santoyo engaged in frequent dealings with top drug traffickers from now-defunct right-wing paramilitary groups and the so-called Envigado Office, a decades-old criminal organization based in Medellín that once had close ties to Colombia’s most infamous drug lord, the late Pablo Escobar.

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From 2002 to 2006, Gen. Santoyo was security chief for Mr. Uribe, who was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010.

The drug traffickers with whom Gen. Santoyo allegedly conspired were responsible for sending “multiple tons” of cocaine produced in Colombia to the U.S. via Mexico and Central America, the indictment alleged.

The federal indictment also says Gen. Santoyo received “substantial” bribes from drug traffickers in exchange for providing inside information about U.S., British and Colombian law-enforcement investigations against the drug runners.

Also, the indictment charges, Gen. Santoyo arranged to have other corrupt Colombian police placed in key positions that made it easier for the drug traffickers to run their illegal business without getting caught.

Additionally, the indictment points the finger at Gen. Santoyo for providing intelligence information collected by Colombian law enforcement to drug traffickers, who it says then used the information to target individuals for murder.

The accusations against the general put another black mark on former President Uribe, who was the U.S.’s strongest ally in Latin America and is credited with having turned back leftist guerrillas and pacified the country. His government received hundreds of millions of dollars each year in U.S. aid to fight drug trafficking.

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When the indictment became public in mid-June, Mr. Uribe quickly urged Gen. Santoyo to turn himself in to explain the situation. Mr. Uribe also sought to distance himself from his former security chief, saying he wasn’t responsible for selecting members of his security detail, including Gen. Santoyo.

Last week, Mr. Uribe again urged the general to turn himself in, saying to do so would avoid the “embarrassment” Colombia could face if one of its generals were to be forcibly extradited.

Mr. Uribe was praised during his two four-year terms in office for his government’s strong work alongside the U.S. government in combating drug trafficking and improving security in Colombia, a country that has been at the center of the drug war for decades. But since Mr. Uribe left office, some of his close associates and family members have been accused of various crimes, from spying to drug trafficking.

Gen. Santoyo was a member of the National Police for three decades before retiring a few years ago. Among his other posts, he led antikidnapping and antiterrorism units.

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