May 22, 2020 / 12:08 AM / 13 days ago

Colombia issues arrest warrants for 10 mayors for alleged graft

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s attorney general’s office said on Thursday it will issue arrest warrants for 10 mayors for alleged acts of corruption during the country’s two months of coronavirus lockdown.

In addition, the Andean country’s inspector general is moving ahead on 512 disciplinary processes involving 26 provincial governments and 271 mayor’s offices.

Corruption is a hot-button political issue in Colombia. Graft costs the country an estimated 5% of its gross domestic product a year, equivalent to about $13 billion, according to the comptroller.

Colombian authorities have discovered cost overruns in purchases of food and hospital equipment as well as tenders given to companies without relevant experience or with political connections, the attorney general’s office, comptroller and inspector general said in a joint virtual press conference.

“We are on a crusade to defend Colombians’ public resources, which are sacred and by virtue of this crisis are ever more scarce,” the inspector general, Fernando Carrillo, said, urging citizens to continue to report irregularities.

The inspector general can impose disciplinary sanctions on public officials, while the attorney general’s office takes on criminal investigations, and the comptroller is charged with recovering state resources.

Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said his office reviewed some 3,000 contracts for irregularities and found information that led to the issuance of arrest warrants for the 10 mayors.

“We will not allow public resources to be used improperly,” he said. The mayor of Armenia, located in the coffee region, is among those implicated.

Comptroller Carlos Felipe Cordoba said his office has reviewed 3.1 trillion pesos ($815 million) worth of contracts meant to provide goods or services related to pandemic response. It has detected $110.4 million in cost overruns. The majority of contracts are for hospital and safety equipment, food and service provision, he said.

Twelve provincial governments and 10 municipalities are implicated in the investigations, while the Navy paid double for some 1.7 million units of face masks, Cordoba added.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler

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