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Colombia president orders inquiry into army kickback allegations

Source: Reuters - Mon, 17 Feb 2014 02:41 AM
Author: Reuters
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Colombian officers (L-R) Air Force Commander Chief Guillermo Leon , Navy Commander Chief Hernando Wills, Chief of Joint Staff of the Armed Forces Hugo Acosta, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Armed Forces General Commander Leonardo Barrero, Colombian Army Commander Chief General Juan Pablo Rodriguez and Colombia's Police Chief General Rodolfo Palomino attend a military ceremony to hand over the presidency of the American Armies Conference from the Mexican Army to the Colombian Army, in Bogota February 13, 2014. REUTERS/John Vizcaino
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BOGOTA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday ordered a judicial investigation into allegations senior army officers received huge kickbacks on military procurement contracts.

Weekly news magazine Semana which made the revelations says it has hundreds of hours of audio recordings proving the existence of an "astonishing corruption network" in which officers received up to 50 percent of the value of contracts.

"The corrupt deeds denounced within the National Army are very serious ... I have given instructions to the Defense Ministry to immediately take firm and exemplary decisions as necessary and make them public. This is unacceptable", he said.

Santos said that given the nature of the allegations, the investigation could only be carried out by the civil and not military judicial authorities.

Colombia has a fairly large army which has received financial and other assistance from the United States for more than a decade for its fight against the FARC and smaller ELN guerrillas in a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people.

The government says the groups finance themselves through the trafficking of cocaine, much of which goes to the United States, though the rebels deny this.

Semana said the recordings, a sample of which were published on its website, were of phone conversations that took place in 2012 and 2013.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said a careful analysis of the facts was under way to determine how to deal with the allegations.

"These accusations seem to me very serious and in no way will we tolerate cases of corruption," he told reporters.

Judicial authorities are already carrying out a separate investigation to discover whether members of the military spied on negotiators in peace talks between the government and the Marxist FARC rebels after revelations by the same magazine. (Reporting by Peter Murphy)

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