Political News

Former rebels, Colombia prosecutor spar over FARC war chest

Posted August 25

— A battle is brewing between Colombia's chief prosecutor and what was recently the nation's largest rebel group over just how much money and property it owns as the former guerillas transition into becoming a political party.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia submitted a list of belongings that included farms, cattle and items as miniscule as mops and juice squeezers as required under a peace agreement earlier this month.

But chief prosecutor Nestor Martinez and other government officials are questioning their accounting, claiming that the nascent political party failed to properly identify what lands it owns and calling many of the claimed assets "irrelevant."

The former guerillas known by the acronym FARC stood by their reported assets on Friday, claiming a total war chest valued at 963 billion pesos ($326 million) — a list they said is exhaustive and fully complies with the accords. FARC leaders said Martinez's response is symptomatic of a broader attempt to distract the public from state corruption and derail the launch of their political party.

"All of this is an attempt to create a smoke screen," said the FARC leader known by the alias Pastor Alape.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC signed an agreement last year to end to the five-decade-long conflict that caused at least 250,000 deaths, left 60,000 people missing and displaced more than 7 million. Some 7,000 guerillas have handed over their weapons and are beginning to transition into life as civilians as the group finds its voice as a political actor.

As part of the accord, the FARC's assets will be transferred into a fund to provide reparations to victims. Failing to provide a full inventory could result in criminal charges for money laundering outside the generous terms provided to guerillas under the agreement. Government authorities signed an expedited decree on Thursday creating a commission to verify the FARC's list of war spoils.

"The assets that have not been included in the inventory and are discovered will lead to an obligatory penalty," Minister of Justice Enrique Gil said.

In his letter to the nation's Interior Ministry Tuesday, Martinez noted that the FARC's reported assets included "social services" like the construction of roadways and performing medical procedures. The extraction of two varicose veins was valued at 1.6 million pesos ($550 dollars), while an emergency rescue response for a patient struck by a cow was estimated to value 1 million pesos ($340 dollars).

Some of the guerillas worked as medics performing surgeries like amputations to combatants struck by explosives and gunfire. They operated in many rural parts of the country and sometimes provided medical services to nearby communities.

The inventory list also included a detailed accounting of plates, brooms, boots and wheelbarrows owned by a group once branded by U.S. officials as one of the world's largest drug-trafficking organizations.

Martinez said accounting for such trivial items was "irrelevant to include among the items being assessed by the chief prosecutor's office."

"To have included such absolutely ridiculous items is a joke on the victims," said Rafael Pardo, the Colombian government's top post-conflict strategist.

FARC leaders on Friday said Martinez's criticisms showed the state's limited understanding of how life functions in rural communities where the government has historically had little presence. Any real estate, they said, has been identified in accordance with the informal means used in the countryside to determine land boundaries in the absence official property lines.

In a rough outline of its assets, the FARC said it has 241,560 hectares (596,907 acres) of land; 2.5 billion pesos ($8.5 million) in Colombian cash, and more than 20,000 cattle, as well as items like automobiles and gold.

"We are the ones who have the least interest in not complying with the accords," Alape said.

The FARC is expected to launch its political party at a conference beginning Sunday.

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Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cearmario

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