Colombia probes agency holding seized drug assets

By CESAR GARCIA
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 10:59 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombian officials said Tuesday they are investigating the government office that manages assets seized from drug gangs over the last two decades, saying there are suspicions some of the assets are missing.

Interior Minister German Vargas declined to give any details of the possible problems at the National Narcotics Directorate other than to say files on some of the seized property appear to be missing.

Juan Carlos Restrepo, who was named head of the National Narcotics Directorate two weeks ago, said that "there is no clear agreement" among paper documents and computer files listing seized property in the agency's control.

The agency was established in 1991 to coordinate efforts to control illicit drugs. But it also is responsible for managing the houses, buildings, farms, cars, boats, planes and other holdings taken from drug dealers.

Some of the assets have been sold off or auctioned, and more recently some properties, such as farms, have been turned over to people as reparations for harm suffered during Colombia's conflicts.

But several Colombian newspapers have reported in recent months on allegations that some forfeited assets, including luxury hotels, had ended up in the hands of other criminals.

"We recognize that there have been situations here that deserve to be investigated," Restrepo said. "There is an inventory of goods under the responsibility of this entity, an inventory of goods that must be reviewed because clearly there is evidence it has been tampered with."

The National Narcotics Directorate, which is a part of the Interior Ministry, has at least 405 employees and at least 100 of them have been denied new contracts although no charges have been filed against anyone, Vargas said.


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