BOGOTA – Colombia’s interior and justice minister said another six former high-ranking intelligence officials facing investigation for illegal domestic spying are planning to seek political asylum or already have done so.
German Vargas Lleras made the remarks Friday after Panama granted asylum to a former director of Colombia’s DAS security service, Maria del Pilar Hurtado.
Speaking from the northern city of Bucaramanga, the minister told reporters that the government is investigating whether those six erstwhile DAS officials have already left the country.
“Six more may have made requests along those lines,” Vargas Lleras said hours after the decision in favor of Hurtado, who was barred from public service for 18 years by Colombia’s inspector general and is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.
Vargas Lleras said all people are assured of due process in Colombia and it is reasonable for the investigation against Hurtado to proceed.
“I’d like to add that the formal charges she may eventually face – for illegal communications intercepts and criminal conspiracy – are not political crimes. I don’t think they should be grounds for an asylum request,” Vargas Lleras said, adding that the “logical and reasonable thing” is for her case to be handled by the Colombian justice system.
The Panamanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that the decision to grant political asylum to Hurtado was intended to “contribute to political and social stability in the region.”
Hurtado, an attorney who headed DAS from August 2007 through October 2008, when she resigned over the spying scandal, arrived in Panama on Monday and submitted the asylum request herself
The first word about the former official’s asylum bid came earlier Friday from Panama’s ambassador to Colombia, Ricardo Anguizola, who said he didn’t know what grounds Hurtado cited in her application.
Judges, journalists, politicians and human rights activists were victims of the warrantless wiretapping and surveillance, which also targeted foreigners visiting Colombia, such as Iran’s Shirin Ebadi, 2003 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The illegal spying apparently went on throughout the eight-year presidency of Alvaro Uribe, who left office in August and is now under scrutiny by a congressional investigative commission.
A score of current and former DAS officials have been indicted by the Colombian Attorney General’s Office in connection with the scandal.
Though DAS reports directly to the Colombian president’s office, Uribe has repeatedly denied having ordered the illegal spying.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, meanwhile, said Saturday that it is regrettable that Panama did not inform Bogota beforehand about the decision to grant Hurtado’s asylum request.
He added, however, that his administration has excellent relations with Panama and respects its sovereign decisions.