Top stories of 2015: Colombian police corruption scandal

By bogotapost February 3, 2016

Rodolfo Palomino, Colombia police corruptionWith accusations of sex, murder, prostitution and cover ups, the Colombian national police have been rocked by allegations of dodgy dealings going back as far as 1998 and reaching all the way to the top: the head of the National Police, General Rodolfo Palomino. Mike Mackenna summarises the scandal

The male prostitution ring

The most salacious allegation is that of a male prostitution ring operating within the police, known as the ‘Fellowship of the Ring’.

According to news reports, in 2014 ten police officers accused the now retired Colonel Jerson Jair Castellanos of being the head of the ring. These officers say that in 2006, Castellanos offered male cadets between COP$500,000 and COP$4 million to have sex with him.

The story gets even murkier with the death of female cadet Lina Maritza Zapata in 2006.

Jesús Vergara, the lawyer who represents her family, claims she was murdered because of her knowledge of the ring. Vergara told El Espectador that Castellanos also arranged sexual encounters between the cadets and congressional representatives, business people and paramilitaries. He claims that the ring included more than 300 people, and operated for seven or eight years. The scandal first broke in 2006; the Attorney General closed the case in 2011, but reopened it in 2014 after new evidence emerged.

Castellanos claims to be the victim of persecution motivated by jealousy of his success.

Sexual harassment 

Colonel Reinaldo Gómez claims that in 1998, General Palomino asked Gómez to have sex with him, and when Gómez refused, Palomino tried to sabotage his career.

As the case moved forward, on May 8, 2015, Gómez recorded a conversation in which three high-ranking police officers tried to threaten and bribe him into dropping the charges; offering to close a pending disciplinary investigation, and insinuating that he could be fired if he persisted in his accusations. La FM released the recording.

Palomino denied the charges and removed the three officers from their positions. Gómez’s charges are being investigated by the Procurador, and Palomino has filed charges against Gómez for defamation.

Harassment of journalists

Journalists from three different media outlets claim that they were followed and wiretapped by the police in an attempt to suppress their investigations into police corruption. La FM journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos said he watched the cursor on his monitor moving on its own in order to delete files from his computer, as if it was being controlled remotely. La FM director Vicky Dávila told El Espectador that she exchanged over 100 emails with a police officer who regretted harassing her, and who told her that she was being followed and that her bank accounts were being monitored in order to frame her for corruption.

At the end of December, President Juan Manuel Santos called the journalists’ accusations, and the other charges against the police, “rumours and gossip”, and refused to remove Palomino from his post. The president also formed a commission in December 2015 to investigate police corruption, giving it 90 days to publish its findings.

Questionable Wealth

Semana’s Daniel Coronell and La FM both wrote articles in December detailing how General Palomino accumulated considerable wealth through controversial means. Palomino made a real estate deal to buy two pieces of property from Colonel Castellanos only two and a half months after asking the colonel to leave the police due to the prostitution scandal. Palomino also somehow managed to buy another piece of expensive property for only 40% of its value. The articles also question the dates around his founding of a successful transport company – was it at the same time as he was director of the transit police?

General Palomino responded to the accusations by claiming that he acquired his wealth through “36 years of honest work and dedicated service to my country.”

By Mike Mackenna