Brother of Colombia's Interior Minister Linked to Drugs Lord and Death Squad

News from Colombia | on: Saturday, 23 August 2008

Opposition parties in Colombia have called on the Interior and Justice Minister, Fabio Valencia Cossio, to resign his post after revelations that his brother has close links to notorious paramilitary death squad commander and cocaine trafficker Daniel Rendon Herrera. The death squad led by Herrera, who is widely known as 'Don Mario', has been accused of 530 killings so far this year and is believed to be one of the largest cocaine trafficking organisations in Colombia.

Guillermo Valencia Cossio, the Minister's brother, is the chief prosecutor in the region of Antioquia where Don Mario's gang operates. Others implicated in the scandal include former Antioquia police chief General Marco Antonio Pedreros, and the chief prosecutor in neighbouring Cordoba department, Perla Emperatriz Davila, where the Don Mario gang also operates.

Details of an investigation first emerged on August 5th when the Colombian Attorney General's office announced that it was probing the links between Don Mario and his lieutenants and the three individuals Valencia Cossio, Davila and General Pedreros. However, whilst General Pedreros has been retired since June, neither prosecutor was removed from their post despite the severity of the allegations.

It was not until transcripts of telephone conversations were leaked to the press this week that action was taken by the Attorney General and both regional prosecutors were sacked after refusing to resign. The transcripts showed that both had close links to the Don Mario gang, had taken money from them and, in the case of Valencia Cossio, had removed Don Mario's second-in-command from a 'wanted' list prepared by law enforcement agencies. In return for the favour of removing the name of long-time paramilitary John Fredy Manco from the list, Valencio Cossio was given an expensive motorbike.

Other parts of the call transcripts revealed that Valencio Cossio had discussed his brothers' position as Minister with representatives of the Don Mario gang and that he had supplied the paramilitaries with various documents and information about operations and investigations of interest to them. Following the publication and his subsequent sacking, both major opposition parties in Colombia, the Polo Democratico and the Liberal Party, called on the Interior Minister to resign due to a conflict of interest. On August 22nd the Minister replied saying that he would not.

Despite his refusal to resign the Minister is being forced to attend a Congressional hearing next week where members of Congress will try to establish if he was aware of his brother's links to the paramilitary drugs traffickers. Opposition lawmakers have also said that due to the circumstances they do not think that the Minister should lead Colombia's controversial justice reforms. The reforms include looking into the very body that is investigating his brother, though again the Minister has refused to withdraw his involvement.

Other lawmakers have queried why Guillermo Valencio Cossio and Perla Emperatriz Davila were allowed to remain in their posts for more than two weeks after the investigation was opened and were only removed after details of the gravity of the allegations were published by the press.

This is not the first time that the Don Mario gang has been linked to family members of senior Colombian officials. In 2006 Juan David Naranjo was arrested and imprisoned in Germany after being found to be the chief European cocaine salesman for the gang. Naranjo, who remains in jail in Germany, is the brother of Colombia's national police commander General Oscar Naranjo.

Last year Colombian foreign minister Maria Consuelo Araujo was forced to resign her post after it was revealed that much of her family, including her father, a regional Governor, and her brother, a leading pro-government Senator, were closely linked to paramilitary death squads.

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