Colombia's Santos ousts military brass over corruption scandal
Bogota, Feb 18 (EFE). President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday a major overhaul of Colombia's armed forces high command following revelations of corruption in military procurement.
"We must act in a clear, forceful way against foreign enemies and internal enemies of our institutions," the president said during a public event in the northern city of Sincelejo.
"Among our internal enemies are those who get rich from corruption or allow it," he said.
To be discharged from their positions, he said, will be the commander of the armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, and other "high officers" that feature in hundreds of hours of recorded conversations cited by newsweekly Semana in an expose of corruption in military procurement.
The scandal centers around Col. Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, who coordinated an extensive bidrigging scheme despite his being in an army stockade for the extrajudicial execution of two people in 2007.
In a conversation with Gonzalez del Rio prior to his appointment as armed forces chief in August 2013, Barrero used a vulgar term to refer to the prosecutors investigating the army for hundreds of extrajudicial executions.
"The commanding general of the military forces is not being removed from his rank for any case of corruption but for some disrespectful expressions that vitiate his authority before the judiciary and before the nation," Santos said Tuesday.
The other high officers "are out because they knew of the irregularities and did nothing," the president said.
"It's important to get to the bottom of these matters, to cut out the problem at its root and to act with complete firmness, but also with impartiality and justice," Santos said.
Minutes after the president spoke in Sincelejo, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon held a press conference in Bogota to name the current army commander, Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, as Barrero's replacement.
Rodriguez Barragan is to be succeeded by Gen. Jaime Lasparilla, while Gen. Javier Florez becomes the new chief of the General Staff.
The commanders of the navy, Adm. Hernando Wills; air force, Gen. Guillermo Leon; and police, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, will remain in their posts, as will the armed forces inspectorgeneral, Vice Adm. Henry Blain.
Pinzon said that the commission studying the corruption charges will continue working with other government agencies, while the armed forces will prepare a regulatory code to ensure transparency in the military.
The bidrigging scheme involved the payment of kickbacks of up to 50 percent of the value of the transactions, Semana said.