BOGOTA – A former guerrilla leader wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges was released on Thursday by order of Colombia’s Supreme Court.
The high court ruled that Jesus Santrich, the nom de guerre of Seuxis Paucias Hernandez Solarte, has immunity from prosecution because a seat in Congress has been reserved for him under the terms of a 2016 peace deal with the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.
The FARC, who fought a decades-old armed struggle against a succession of Colombian governments, have transformed themselves into a communist political party that uses the same acronym but now goes by the name Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.
“At this time, the Attorney General’s Office is complying with a Supreme Court decision with respect to Mr. Seuxis Paucias Hernandez Solarte,” that federal agency said on Twitter.
One of Santrich’s attorneys, Gustavo Gallardo, told reporters that the former guerrilla leader had left the headquarters of the AG’s office in Bogota, where he had been held since May 17, and was heading by car to the FARC party’s headquarters.
The party said that after meeting with his colleagues the 52-year-old Santrich will go to the Congress building to take up a seat in Colombia’s House of Representatives, one of five in the lower house reserved for the FARC for a period of eight years under the terms of the peace accord signed on Nov. 24, 2016.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered authorities to release Santrich, who had been arrested in April 2018 for allegedly conspiring to ship 10 tons of cocaine to the US.
US authorities accuse Santrich of arranging that illegal shipment after the signing of the peace accord and say his alleged crimes therefore do not fall under Colombia’s transitional justice system.
Santrich, who was a senior FARC peace negotiator, had been briefly released earlier this month by order of a special tribunal created to handle cases involving participants in Colombia’s armed conflict, leaving Bogota’s La Picota prison in a wheelchair.
But he was subsequently rearrested after the AG’s office said the US had provided new evidence in his case.
Colombia’s high court ruled Wednesday that as a member of Congress Santrich’s case falls under its jurisdiction.
The former guerrilla had been unable to be sworn in as a lawmaker on July 20, 2018, precisely because he had been arrested three months earlier on an Interpol Red Notice issued at the US’s request.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a press conference Thursday that the Colombian Supreme Court’s decision was “regrettable.”
“As goes for any thriving democracy like Colombia, we respect the decision of the court,” she added.