- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control wants the State Department to audit all U.S. assistance to Colombian National Police amid reports that $2 million in U.S. aid is missing.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked State Department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin in a letter Friday to begin the audit immediately, noting that President Bush has proposed additional assistance for Colombia and lifted current restrictions on how the aid can be used.
Last week, El Tiempo newspaper in Bogota reported that the United States had suspended administrative funding to Colombia's anti-narcotics police in March. The newspaper said six of the unit's top officers were fired and an estimated $2 million in U.S. aid was missing.
The U.S. government has since frozen payments to the program and, in Bogota, Gen. Gustavo Socha, the officer in charge of the anti-narcotics unit, has been relieved of his command. Twelve other officers in the anti-drug corps have been dismissed.
"My interest in this matter is furthered because just over two years ago I wrote your office expressing a similar concern over questions involving the possible mishandling of certain U.S. assistance to Colombia," said Mr. Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The results of that review stated that the records kept by the Colombian National Police were such that it was impractical at that time to determine whether any diversion of funds had taken place," he said.
"As a result of this review, your office recommended a series of reforms that were to be implemented by the U.S. Embassy in Bogota," he said. "I would like you to determine what was reported to Washington regarding the missing funds, and when."
Both the Bush administration and the Colombian government have attempted to downplay the significance of the diversion, which comes amid rising skepticism on Capitol Hill about U.S. involvement in Colombia's battle with narcotics traffickers and with armed insurgent groups.
"This funding is a very, very small part of our overall assistance to Colombia and has not directly affected our counter-narcotics programs, including the aerial eradication program," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
U.S. Embassy officials in Bogota discovered the funding discrepancy two months ago. The account provides $4 million annually to the police unit.
Mr. Boucher said U.S. support for the Colombian anti-narcotics police "remains strong" and that the State Department was "confident of the professionalism and the dedication of the vast majority of its members."
He also said the United States backed Gen. Jorge Enrique Linares, who was named to replace Gen. Socha.
Bogota press accounts said as many as 20 officers could have been involved in the scandal and that the money had apparently been paid to fake companies for goods including fuel, water, gasoline and vehicles.
The U.S. freeze affects only the money earmarked for the police account and does not affect hundreds of millions of dollars in aid approved by both the Clinton and Bush administrations to the government of President Andres Pastrana.
The U.S. government's "Plan Colombia" restricts U.S. aid to helping Colombia control the drug trade, by far the U.S. market's largest source of cocaine.


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