The prosecution has shaken Colombia’s incipient presidential campaign when it is just about to start. One of the best positioned candidates for the 2022 elections, the former mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo, will have to answer to justice for the first criminal charge of his public career due to alleged irregularities when contracting a loan in dollars eight years ago, when he was governor. from the department of Antioquia between 2012 and 2015.
The investigating body headed by Francisco Barbosa, a close friend of President Iván Duque, accuses Fajardo of the crimes of embezzlement in favor of aggravated third parties and a contract without compliance with legal requirements. He argues that, according to his analysis, the then governor did not carry out a study on the need to carry out this operation in foreign currency and not in pesos, he did not project the volatility of the dollar, nor did he purchase foreign exchange risk insurance. Due to the devaluation of the peso and the fluctuation of the dollar, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, there was a fiscal detriment estimated at the end of 2020 at 320,000 million pesos (about 85 million dollars).
Fajardo, a mathematician linked to the transformation of Medellín as mayor and later as governor of Antioquia, was forged in citizen movements as an independent figure of the parties, has cultivated the center of the political spectrum and supported the peace agreement sealed four years ago with the FARC guerrilla. In the midst of the polarization that has characterized Colombia since the Havana dialogues, he is not a figure that awakens consensus. He has been the target of criticism both from the left and from the more conservative sectors gathered around the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former president Álvaro Uribe, Duque’s political mentor.
However, the indictment was widely interpreted as a late decision and sparked a wave of solidarity. The legal argument was rejected by politicians of various ideological tendencies, but also by economic sectors and by criminal lawyers. Various voices question the credibility and independence of the Prosecutor’s Office, precisely on the eve of a hearing in which, next Tuesday, it must support its decision to close the investigation against former President Uribe for a case of witness manipulation in which the victims are they have complained of a lack of guarantees.
Barbosa, a 46-year-old lawyer recognized for his closeness to Duque since they studied together at Sergio Arboleda University, was elected in January 2020 by the Supreme Court of Justice as attorney general despite lacking criminal law credentials. He came from serving as presidential advisor for human rights, a position in which he was questioned for his imprecise handling of the figures on the murders of social leaders.
Its Prosecutor’s Office has been surrounded by controversies such as the action in the Uribe case, an investigation against the mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, or the arrest of the governor of Antioquia, Aníbal Gaviria. The indictment against Fajardo comes amid a growing sense that the division of powers is at risk. The Executive has managed to install at the head of the control bodies people very close to Duque or to Uribismo since last year, which has revived discussions about the balance of powers, the system of checks and balances, the merits of officials or the independence of different entities. The main objections have been directed against Barbosa and the attorney general, the former Minister of Justice Margarita Cabello Blanco, who took office this year.
“Asking for loans in dollars is a fairly common practice and has a very simple justification, since interest rates are cheaper in dollars,” explains consultant and political analyst Andrés Mejía Vergnaud. Requiring projections on their behavior “is equivalent to seeing the future, fortune-telling, futurology, fortune-telling or crystal ball,” he says to illustrate that the statistical frequency of errors in projections about the price of the dollar is very high. “There is no possibility of anticipating the future development of a financial variable,” he adds, and exchange hedges are extremely expensive in the Colombian environment. “From the reality of the financial market the charges of the Prosecutor’s Office lack any logic, which is what leads us to wonder if there is a political motivation behind that,” he values about the avalanche of questions.
“It does not sound reasonable to charge a public official because he did not know where the dollar was going,” says Bruce MacMaster, president of the national association of businessmen, ANDI. “It is very serious that the Attorney General’s Office intends to make unanticipated movements in the price of the dollar a crime,” agreed Luis Fernando Mejía, director of Fedesarrollo, an economic research center. “It is a direct participation of the Prosecutor’s Office in the electoral process,” noted the criminal lawyer Francisco Bernate.
Fajardo, who ranked third in the first round of the 2018 presidential elections, behind Duque and the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro, is committed to forging the Coalition of Hope, which brings together different forces in the center of the political spectrum. “As democrats we respect the institutions, but the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office against Fajardo is absurd, unprecedented, interference in the middle of the political campaign. We are sure that it will demonstrate the transparency of its actions ”, stated the other members –which include former peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle or Congresswoman Ángela María Robledo– in a joint message. “Not only an outburst and an attack on common sense, but also a deviation from justice, a dangerous form of intimidation,” added Alejandro Gaviria, the rector of the University of Los Andes, who has ruled out launching his candidacy.
“It does not sound good that months before a presidential election the Prosecutor’s Office will target,” said Petro, who has been very critical of Fajardo in the past and seeks to forge his own coalition. In the ideological antipodes, even members of the Democratic Center rejected what they described as “judicialization of politics”, in the words of Senator Paloma Valencia or presidential candidate Rafael Nieto.
In the midst of the storm, the former mayor of Medellín has avoided declaring himself a politically persecuted person. “I put, with difficulty, serenity and prudence ahead and help me with the messages of support they give me,” he wrote this Thursday in a message in your own handwriting: “Truth and decency always come out ahead even if sometimes they delay, or get tangled up.” It was his second statement since the news broke. In the first, he anticipated that he will formally ask the prosecutor Barbosa to “preside over a legal technical committee to review the inadmissibility of this accusation.”
Given that Fajardo is measured, the accusation must be presented before the Superior Court of Bogotá and then the Supreme Court of Justice will define the merits in a process that can take years. But there is recent history of committees that have dropped accusations – as happened with the informant in a case of censorship in the public media system. “The Prosecutor’s Office has shown that when there is enormous opposition to their accusations, they are capable of backing down and throwing back their judicial apparatus. It is probable that due to the wave of criticism that the move has deserved as it is anti-technical and with an evident double race compared to similar actions by other organizers of public spending, the same thing may happen in this episode ”, points out the analyst Sergio Guzmán, director of the consulting firm Colombia Risk Analysis. “This does not serve the public reputation of the Prosecutor’s Office or that of the judicial apparatus in general, which has been eroding its credibility due to its actions against high-profile politicians and its lack of action in other cases,” he warns.
Subscribe here to the newsletter of EL PAÍS América and receive all the informative keys of the current situation in the region.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.