The judges of Colombia’s Supreme Court found themselves in an unusual position Wednesday, ruling that a major narco-trafficker was in fact innocent of various high-level crimes he had claimed to commit. 

The court confirmed a lower court decision finding that Francisco Javiar Zuluaga, alias “Gordolindo,” was not in fact a commander in Colombia’s largest paramilitary group, the now-defunct AUC block, as the convicted cartel leader had previously claimed, and was therefore not eligible to receive the reduced sentencing afforded former paramilitaries under Colombia’s Justice and Peace statute.

Despite his testimony to the contrary, said Supreme Court Press Secretary German Gomez, in an interview with Colombia Reports, Zuluaga ”was not a paramilitary; he was a drug trafficker. He lied about the paramilitary part; he was a drug trafficker.”

The court’s ruling means that Zuluaga will return to Colombia at the end of the 21-year sentence he is currently serving in the United States and be processed without the benefit of the Justice and Peace law, which offers former paramilitaries a dramatically reduced sentencing cap in return for  cooperation with the state.

Previously, Gordolindo was believed to be one of the primary leaders of the now-disbanded AUC paramilitary umbrella organization. According to the Semana magazine, he had claimed to have been in charge of the AUC’s Pacific Bloc at the time of its demobilization and to have acted as the financial boss of the Calima Bloc. A series of court rulings, however, have determined that Zuluaga’s criminal involvement extends only to the significant role he played in Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, which was enough to earn him the sizable sentence he is currently serving following his extradition to the United States.

MORE: Colombia revokes judicial benefits for demobilized drug trafficker

Gomez told Colombia Reports that Zuluaga’s “is the first case with these characteristics” to appear before the Supreme Court, clarifying that cases concerning false claims of paramilitary involvement originate in the Prosecutor General’s Office, and that the court does not have access to that information.

In 2006, the Justice and Peace law was passed to incentivize paramilitary groups to demobilize. Non-member criminals are suspected to have taken advantage of this agreement, and of those paramilitaries who did turn themselves in, only 16 will be charged with the thousands of crimes committed by the whole. Later this year, the first paramilitary leaders processed under the law are scheduled to be released into civilian society.

MORE: Colombia’s paramilitaries will walk out of prison guilt-free 


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