- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - A prosecutor with Colombia’s special peace tribunal was caught red handed accepting cash in exchange for swaying a controversial ruling over a top rebel’s extradition to the U.S. on drug charges, authorities said Friday.

The chief prosecutor’s office announced that Carlos Bermeo, along with a former senator and two other suspects, were detained “in the moment” they were taking a $500,000 bribe at two hotels north of capital city Bogota.

In a brief statement, officials said the suspects were expected to influence a still-pending decision over whether or not to extradite Seuxis Hernandez, a top rebel peace negotiator best known by his alias Jesus Santrich.

No further details were released.

The accusations are sure to mark one more blow to efforts by Colombia’s special peace tribunal to gain the trust of a skeptical public. Many in Colombia believe the court’s terms are far too lenient against former rebels who participated in war crimes. Those who fully confess are unlikely to serve any time behind bars.



A spokesman for the peace tribunal said Bermeo works in an investigations unit that has no role in weighting extradition requests.

Santrich is detained in Colombia on a U.S. drug warrant accusing him of conspiring with three others to smuggle several tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $15 million in April 2018. The special peace court has been debating the decision for months amid delayed requests to obtain evidence from U.S. authorities.

At issue is whether the alleged crimes were committed before or after the signing of Colombia’s 2016 peace accord to end over five decades of civil conflict.

The case is considered an important test of the nascent peace court, which is still in the early stages of opening investigations against former rebels and military officials suspected in human rights violations and has not yet issued any rulings.

The chief prosecutor’s office and the special peace tribunal have sparred repeatedly over access to case files and jurisdiction on sensitive topics.

Speaking from Medellin on Friday, President Ivan Duque, who was elected to the presidency after Santrich’s arrest on a platform criticizing aspects of the accord, called the case “extremely grave.”

“This is an unfortunate case of corruption,” he said. “It needs to be clarified and pursued until all consequences are enforced.”

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