Colombia’s former chief prosecutor has gone from being one of the most powerful and influential corporate lawyers to facing trial for treason in just four years.
Nestor Humberto Martinez was “Sarmiento’s guy,” the go-to guy for Colombia’s richest man, Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who has bankrolled every president’s campaign for 20 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, former President Juan Manuel Santos‘ appointed the founder of former Vice-President German Vargas‘ Radical Change party “super minister” after the 2014 elections.
Things started going wrong, however, after the Supreme Court elected Martinez as Prosecutor General in mid-2016.
For years, Brazil’s “Operation Carwash” was unveiling a bribery scandal centered around state oil company Petrobas.
In Colombia, Petrobas contractor Odebrecht had been working with Sarmiento’s Grupo Aval since 2009 and Martinez knew about suspicious payments in 2015.
Sarmiento’s guy was more powerful than ever though and corruption isn’t particularly out of the ordinary in Colombia, most certainly not in construction.
Ever since taking office as chief prosecutor in mid-2016, Martinez made sure to keep an eye, or and ear rather, on both his corporate clients’ interests and the criminal justice system.
Using the prosecution’s wiretapping facilities, the chief prosecutor was able to stay on top of his clients’ legal issues and the demobilization of the FARC that began almost immediately after the rebels signed a peace deal with Santos on November 24, 2016.
Within weeks, the prosecution was wiretapping the FARC’s political leaders “Ivan Marquez” and “Jesus Santrich,” according to recently released evidence, as well as former Senator Piedd Cordoba and Conservative Party mogul Alvaro Leyva.
Additionally, prosecution officials were ordered to wiretap phones of people considered liabilities to Martinez’s corporate clients and report back to controversial prosecutor Daniel Hernandez.
Is Daniel Hernandez Colombia’s most corrupt prosecutor in history?
What Martinez did not expect was the US Department of Justice would reveal that Odebrecht had been bribing governments throughout Africa and Latin America, including Colombia, in December 2016.
Martinez had been keeping this quiet as he was in full control of Colombia’s justice system. Suddenly, however, he was dealing with American criminal investigations into corruption that directly incriminated Grupo Aval and eventually himself.
Meanwhile, the FARC and the government were preparing the implementation of their peace deal that included a war crimes tribunal that would function independently of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
So, Martinez was not just losing control over Grupo Aval’s interests, but also the implementation of the peace agreement and the transitional justice system that would not try war crimes committed by the FARC, the State and the private sector alike.
So, while the United Nations and the European Union were watching over Martinez’s shoulder to monitor the peace process, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) was breathing in the chief prosecutor’s neck about the Odebrecht scandal.
Unlike the administration of his predecessor, former US President Barack Obama, US President Donald Trump had no interest in supporting the peace process as he was dealing with an unprecedented drug crisis.
In early 2017, the DOJ said it would intensify law enforcement in regards to corruption to make failing efforts to combat cocaine trafficking more effective.
The UN and the EU, in the meantime, were monitoring the peace process.
Martinez hit an all-time low when the DEA caught his hand-picked anti-corruption czar red-handed while bartering bribes between politicians investigated by the Supreme Court and corrupt magistrates in Florida.
Less than 10 months after the DOJ announced its preliminary findings in the Odebrecht scandal, the new “Toga Cartel” scandal in September revealed judicial corruption at the highest level.
Apart from carrying out all kinds of illegal wiretapping operations, the prosecution began to legally wiretap Marlon Marin, the nephew of the a FARC’s political leader and a small-time hustler.
In February, Marin allegedly was recorded talking about laundering money with a US citizen, Vicent Schifano.
The DEA understood that if they were able to pressure Marin with evidence of his criminal activity, the feds could get access to the very top of the FARC who Martinez was already wiretapping anyway.
Martinez was trying hard to divert attention away from the Toga Cartel scandal and the Odebrecht scandal by doing what authorities had done for decades, accuse the guerrillas of whatever came to mind.
Hardliners within the Trump administration were no fans of the peace process that shielded FARC members from extradition. Counternarcotics agencies were unable to shift from aerial fumigation and forces eradication to crop substitution and rural development that was part of the peace deal.
While the former enemies of the Colombian and US governments were doing relatively well, Bogota and Washington DC were dealing with unprecedented corruption and drug trafficking challenges.
How sinking Colombia’s peace deal would change this is entirely unclear, but Martinez’ decision to cooperate with the DEA’s attempt to entrap FARC bosses is enough to try him for high treason said Senator Ivan Cepeda on Thursday.
We will request that he be investigated for the alleged committing the crime of treason, since he would have carried out acts that sought to affect the Sovereign nature of our country’s State.
Senator Ivan Cepeda
Marquez and Santrich may be war criminals, but they’re not stupid. The former guerrillas had just reached a deal that kept them out of prison, shielded them from extradition and launched into Congress.
The prosecution and the DEA had evidence Marin was conspiring to launder money in February already, but learned quickly that Marquez didn’t want his dodgy nephew anywhere near the peace process and Santrich didn’t really know him.
In June, two businessmen from Cali, long-time DEA informant Armando Gomez and Fabio Younes, retook the Marin’s money laundering attempts in June.
These two men reportedly told Marin in August that Mexicans, who would later turned out to be undercover DEA agents, were getting involved.
Martinez at the time was all over the place as the DEA also dropped the Toga Cartel bomb on the chief prosecutor who was already up to his neck in trouble over the Odebrecht scandal.
Because the FARC leaders were unresponsive, the prosecution and the DEA agreed to do their own drug deal in October 2017 apparently believing they would be able to pin this on Marquez or Santrich later.
In fact, the FARC leaders were so unresponsive the DEA only had evidence of Marin conspiring to launder money and the chief prosecutor’s involvement in the Odebrecht and the Toga Cartel scandal.
In other words, Martinez was in more trouble with the DEA than Santrich and Marquez combined.
Marin wasn’t able to set up a meeting with Santrich and the DEA until February 8, 2018, under the false pretext that foreign investors wanted to talk about work projects for reintegrating FARC members.
The American citizen who initially agreed to launder $5 million was entrapped and received that money in fake bills on February 13, 2008, allowing the feds to claim Marin was no longer guilty of conspiracy, but that the money transfer had taken place.
Without any evidence and an unsubstantiated testimony of DEA Brian Witek, former District Attorney Geoffrey Bergman convinced a grand jury that Santrich agreed to send 10 metric tons of cocaine, and convinced a grand jury to indict the FARC leader and request his extradition.
Martinez went to the president and lied about the veracity of the evidence “with absolute premeditation,” after which Santos agreed to the arrest of Santrich and the peace process collapsed.
Martinez provided what evidence he could, but nothing that proved any criminal behavior, to the contrary. In October 2018 the prosecution released audio in which it became clear Santrich had been lured into the meeting under false pretexts.
When the war crimes tribunal received no evidence to sustain the drug trafficking claim from either the US Government or the prosecution, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) released Santrich in May 2019.
In panic, the former chief prosecutor released video footage of the meeting between Santrich and the DEA, but admitted in Congress on Thursday the video had been manipulated to provide him with the excuse to arrest Santrich while leaving prison.
The FARC leader tried committing suicide, but survived and was a free man again two weeks later because also the manipulated video allegedly provided by the DEA contained no evidence.
US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said to “regret” the decision and insisted that the drug trafficking charges filed against the FARC’s former ideologue “as I’m sure you’re aware, are very severe, conspiring to ship over 10,000 kilos of cocaine.”
They sure were severe, but also entirely fabricated, according to the evidence.
US Ambassador Kevin Whitaker had already quit by then because Congress had accused him of extorting lawmakers into pressuring the JEP.
The chief prosecutor resigned after the JEP ordered an investigation into Martinez and the DEA agents in May 2019.
Having lost all faith in the process, Santrich, Marquez and some 20 other former FARC commanders disappeared and announced their rearmament in August last year.
The evidence recently revealed by newspaper El Espectador and Thursday by Petro revealed that the prosecution had made more than 24,000 recordings, almost all of the DEA and Marin, one person impersonating to be Marquez and another person with a Bogota accent impersonating to be a late Mexican drug lord.
Martinez was legally obliged to surrender these recordings that would have exonerated the FARC leader, but refused.
What the Attorney General’s Office did in conjunction with DEA officials was a setup, it was a lie.
Senator Gustavo Petro
The former chief prosecutor insisted on Thursday that Santrich was a narco, despite the evidence the former FARC ideologue is not.
The guerrilla leaders who have abandoned the peace process are war criminals whose victims are further from justice than ever while Martinez is closer to prison than ever.