SEMANA/Judicial | 10/29/2008 12:00:00 AM
Not guilty, nor innocent: but, free
Alberto Santofimio, who had been accused of instigating drug kingpin Pablo Escobar to murder presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán in 1989, was freed because of “reasonable doubt”.
But the obvious elation of the weather-beaten former political leader when he regained his freedom contrasted with the bewilderment that the news produced in public opinion.
This happened, on one hand, because the resume of the adept politician isn’t exactly an example to follow. Santofimio has been one of the few personalities in national life associated with both the Medellín and Cali cartels. In addition, he has been previously imprisoned in the 1970s and 1990s for different reasons: falsification of identity cards, bank account problems, and the famous “8,000 trial”, a campaign finance scandal during the administration of President Ernesto Samper.
Secondly, public opinion clearly believes Santofimio is guilty and that is why the first 24 year sentence against the politician had been well-received. In truth, very few people in the country were happy that he was freed.
However, the Tribunal determined that there are still doubts in the case, which is why he was released. The decision says, in layman’s terms, that although he may have been a politician associated with drug traffickers he wasn’t necessarily an assassin. Many criminal lawyers think that it was very difficult to sentence the former senator based on the evidence presented in the trial.
There were many loose ends. The first was the testimony of alias “Popeye”, the right-hand man of Pablo Escobar. He changed his version several times about how much influence Santofimio had on Escobar. For the court, the testimony of the contract killer of the Medellín cartel had doubtful validity because he was a criminal and his statement might have involved an intention of vengeance.
A second loose end was the alleged motive of the crime. It was based on the benefits Santofimio would have had for removing Galán when both were Liberal Party presidential candidates. But people do not remember the political circumstances of that period. The truth is that in 1989 Santofimio did not have any chance of being president of Colombia. The real fight was between Luis Carlos Galán and Hernando Durán Dussán.
Luis Carlos Galán had a large advantage over the others and the candidacy of Santofimio was not only not viable, but his negative reputation disqualified him.
Another loose end is the theory that the politician could have influenced the criminal decisions of Escobar with phrases such as “Kill him, Pablo, kill him.” Santofimio allegedly made that statement to Escobar, according to “Popeye”. The Tribunal evidently did not consider this testimony credible.
The truth is that it will never be known what really happened in the conversations that “Popeye” and Virginia Vallejo, the confessed ex lover of the kingpin, say that they witnessed between Escobar and Santofimio in which Galán’s assassination was discussed. There will always be one person’s account versus the other’s. Still, the fact that the majority of Colombians believe that Santofimio had something to do with the assassination does not mean that justice can arrive at the same conclusion based on available evidence.
In any case, this chapter does not end here. The same decision of the court, the Tribunal Superior de Cundinamarca, clearly says that while it cannot be proven that Santofimio is guilty, neither does it say that he is innocent, thereby leaving a door open. That is why the Galán family announced that they will appeal the decision before the Supreme Court of Justice because they are convinced that the evidence presented at the trial is sufficient. The last word belongs to the Supreme Court. Come what may, the most staunch enemies of Santofimio, who were indignant with the image of the politician happily leaving prison hand in hand with his fourth wife, will have to recognize that three years of prison plus the social condemnation that he has been subject to has been some sort of punishment.