SEMANA/Cover Story | 10/20/2008 12:00:00 AM
The mysterious IOU’S of the President of Congress
The supposed brains behind the embezzlement of Cajanal gave 250 million COP ($113,000 USD) in cash to the Senator Hernán Andrade days before his election.
Some of the teachers don’t have any idea that their names were being used for those purposes, and according to the Fiscalía, the prosecutor general’s office, in many cases the teachers didn’t receive a cent from their famous pensions. The lawyers kept a great part of the money.
What nobody could have imagined is that several million pesos of the multi-million dollar scam would line the pockets of politicians, among those of the current president of the Congress, the Conservative Party Senator Hernán Andrade.
The story began to become uncovered on October 25, 2007 when a group of National Intelligence Service (DAS) security agents raided an office in Neiva looking for proof for the investigation of embezzlement of the Caja Nacional de Prevision Social (Cajanal), the state pension fund. They found a gold mine of information: dozens of titles, deeds, payment letters and IOUs.
The majority of those documents belonged to Armando Cabrera Polanco and Jeiner Guilombo, who were figures in the prosecutor general’s inquiry as brains of the Cajanal bloodletting. Everything indicates that when they realized they were being followed and in order to avoid that the authorities would discover that accounting treasure, they asked a friendly lawyer to take all the papers and to take care of everything related to their requests for payment.
Among the hundreds of documents they found two IOUs signed by congressman Hernán Andrade as a guarantee of a loan for a total of 250 million COP ($113,000 USD). One is from March 7, 2006 for 150 million COP ($68,000 USD) and the other from March 10 of the same year for 100 million COP ($45,000 USD).
Many things stand out as one revises the IOUs. First, there is only basic information such as name, loan amount and debtor’s signature, but left blank were fundamental items such as interest rate, the payment date and the payment conditions. It was a blank IOU.
Secondly, there is the matter of the date of the loans. Not only is there a difference of three days between loans, but that two days after Armando Cabrera paid the last 100 million COP ($45,000 USD), Hernán Andrade faced election as senator.
Third, it is odd that the money was paid in cash. At least in Colombia the payment of large sums of cash, just days before election day, brings back unsavory memories.
Why did Andrade turn to these type of unorthodox loans? And why at that time?
In the least serious of scenarios, it could be thoughtless act from Andrade. It doesn’t look good for a congressman to make such informal transactions with an individual. Nevertheless, it is beginning to awaken serious suspicions if you take into consideration that Armando Cabrera, at the date of the loan, already had faced a seven year prison sentence for a previous embezzlement case involving Cajanal.
Almost ten years after the first sentence, the prosecutor general’s office opened two new investigations in 2006 against Mr. Cabrera which put him back in jail and at the doors of a trial. In the case file it says that all the fortune of Cabrera Polanco and the documents and IOUs that were found in the mentioned raid are illicit products his Cajanal embezzlement.
“With the array of evidence it can be concluded without doubt that Armando Cabrera Polanco and his partner Jeiner Guilombo were able to defraud the Caja Nacional de Previsión for an amount exceeding 100 billion pesos ($45 million USD),” the prosecutor general’s office reported in its decision.
After being asked by SEMANA, senator Andrade confirmed a good part of the information. He says that Armando Cabrera made the loan and that he received it in cash. For some people it is logical. The Cabrera Polanco family is well-known in Huila, a department where the senator is involved in politics and at that time, according to Andrade, they were giving a loan at 2 percent interest, a very attractive rate.
But at the time of answering about the use of the 250 million pesos, the senator contradicted himself. While he answered to the first questions that the purpose of the loan wasn’t “strictly about his campaign… it was also for a commercial operation, not only for campaign matters” and that Armando Cabrera “had helped out in another time, in another campaign,” at the end he denied all of that and tried to be categorical in saying that it was exclusively for “commercial reasons that he will explain to the authorities.” It is difficult to imagine a politician who in the most important days of his campaign received so much money in cash for a business deal.
Andrade also says that neither then nor today does he sees a problem in having received Cabrera’s loan because, according to him, he was not aware of Cabrera’s past, nor of the sentence he had received. Such lack of knowledge at the least seems strange having come from a man who as senator not only should be informed of what is happening with others in Huila, but also because he had shown a greater interest than any other congressperson in Cajanal. He is the only person who has requested a debate about Cajanal in Congress.
What authorities need to investigate is what he used the money for and especially if Armanda Cabrera had any other motive in handing over monies to a figure such as Andrade, who in his condition of senator and now president of the Congress could have influence with strategic players in the whole Cajanal process.
What is known to date is that Senator Andrade has been the most assiduous visitor to the Cajanal management. He visited Cajanal almost every week to discuss pending pension issues.
To the new management Andrade requested on three occasions- two last year and once as president of the Congress- to help the lawyer Oscar Torres, who, according to witnesses, in the meetings took out a list of about 300 persons who he was helping with the pensions.
Senator Andrade admits knowing this lawyer but that he never asked anyone in the government or in Cajanal to process the pensions. “He was introduced as a soccer businessman from Neiva.” He justifies his repeated visits saying that he was trying to help the people of his region as part of his job as congressman.
Asked about the case, Augusto Moreno the director of Cajanal, told SEMANA that Senator Andrade introduced him to Torres and that on several occasions he asked him to meet with him.
The Cajanal embezzlement case is shocking. Each day there is more evidence that shows how those who created the scam were able to convince teachers, buy judges and bribe Cajanal officials. Once, for example, mafias of lawyers were in charge of periodically paying for lunch for employees of the Caja and at Christmastime they sent no less than 100 gift baskets of 300,000 pesos ($135 USD).
The name of Armando Cabrera has been at the center of the seriousness of the mentioned scandal of Cajanal, that has lasted now for almost two decades. The resolution of the accusation of the prosecutor general’s office against him and his partner makes a particular mention of two of the cases in which he achieved financial bleeding. That of a judge from Buenaventura who ordered payment of special pensions of 69 million COP ($31 million USD) and that of a judge from Ibagué who ordered the payment of a pension of 49 billion COP ($22 million USD). In the Buenaventura case the money was wired and according to the prosecutor general not a cent was paid to the pensioners.
What is most damning for the accused is that in this investigation unlike in different proceedings for the same type of embezzlement in which the judge absolved the brother of Armando (Omar Cabrera) the prosecutor general’s office has proof: two titles for 30 million COP provided by Armando Cabrera to the Buenaventura judge who ordered Cajanal to recognize a grace pension to more than 300 teachers. These documents are proof of the bribe to the judge for accepting illegal pensions.
Now there are great expectations about what could happen in the trial of Armando Cabrera. His lawyer, Dario Bazzani, claims that it is not true that the fortune of his client is the result of the Cajanal embezzlement.
This story is just unfolding. Hernán Andrad is a 48 year old lawyer from Neiva who is currently living, as president of Congress, his moment of glory. In his native department of Huila he is known as the Conservative politician who has strictly followed the trade of a politician: first as city councilman then state congressman then lower house representative and finally senator.
Why did Senator Andrade request 250 million COP from a person who has been sentenced for embezzlement? Why did he not request a bank loan? Why did they give him that money in cash? When was he planning to pay off his debt with the people involved in the Cajanal scam?
Judicial authorities have a new challenge. As in the case of the “Processo 8,000” in which former Colombian President Erensto Samper was accused of receiving money from drug traffickers for his campaign, or in the more recent case of para-politics, sophisticated links between political leaders and the mafia have become apparent. Now is the time to establish once and for all whether politicians such as Senator Andrade have played, or not, a role in this chapter of corruption in the country.