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| 8/30/2011 6:00:00 PM

Mission impossible

Colombia’s Attorney General Viviane Morales is responsible for 1,150 special jurisdiction cases and the Constitution prohibits delegating them to another attorney. Morales says she can only attend three trials each year. That’s why she sent an SOS to Congress, asking for help.

The justice reform, which makes its passage through Congress, has many controversies. But one of the few points on which all agree and, moreover, consider it urgent to solve is that it is necessary to change the article in which the Attorney General is personally leading the cases of people with immunity.

The country may not have realized what this implies. It means that the Constitution has opened the possibility of impunity in cases of people who hold positions as ministers, governors, ambassadors, among others. When these high-ranking state officials must answer for any crime, the Constitution states that the Attorney General is the one that has to undertake research and to accuse them before the Supreme Court.

This means that, for example, in the case of the former agricultural minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who is being investigated for irregularities in the allocation of subsidies, the Attorney General has to take of her already limited time to thoroughly review the evidence, prepare and litigate the case, to the nine judges of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court.

The problem is even worse, if one considers that there are 1149 cases of special jurisdiction. That means that almost every day of the next three years, the Attorney General would have to solve a case. This is, from every point of view, impossible.

And as if that was not enough, the most shocking is that the new accusatory justice system cases, which began operating in 2005, are 695. According to Morales, the attorney general's office has only made five imputation hearings, three of them by hers predecessors (Mario Iguarán and Guillermo Mendoza) and two were made in her first six months of work.

As things stand the only judgments that are advancing are the ones that absorb the medias front pages. This was the case of the former director of the Colombian security department, DAS, Jorge Noguera, the former Director of Antioquia Attorneys Office Ramiro Valencia Cossio and recently with the former Minister of Agriculture Andres Felipe Arias.

The fact that only the attorney general's office takes cases of special jurisdiction leads to all sorts of problems. The case of Jorge Noguera and former Minister Sabas Pretelt, for example, were canceled and had to start again from scratch because they were not in charge of Viviane Morales. It also gives rise to injustice, as happened recently in the case of Andres Felipe Arias, in which three persons that were subordinated to him were already in jail, meanwhile the former minister process was not advancing.

The general attorneys are not responsible for the many unsolved cases of special jurisdiction. They have a monumental workload, which includes the management of an institution of over 25,000 officials and the design and implementation of the criminal policy of the country. Just to mention two of their most important functions. And for them, to take a case to the Supreme Court, involves an almost exclusive commitment of an entire week, in the best case.

Last Wednesday in the First Committee of the House of Representatives, the attorney launched a kind of SOS. Morales explained that from the time she reached the Attorneys Office on January the 12th this year until June the 30th, her office received 387 new processes. "As it stands, this system encourages impunity," she told lawmakers. She added that regardless the efforts made by the attorney general, it is impossible for them to make more than three complaints a year, and she won’t be able to personally handle the 1,150 cases.

Its a complicated situation, but what Morales is looking for is that in the justice reform, the Congress will approve that the Attorney General would be able to pass some of the cases to other special attorneys.
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