Colombia's top court orders release of ex-rebel wanted by US

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombia's Supreme Court ordered Wednesday the "immediate release" of former FARC guerrilla leader Jesus Santrich, who is wanted by the United States for drug trafficking.

Santrich, who is suspected of participating in the trafficking of 10 tons of cocaine to the US, has been in prison since April 2018.

"There is no appeal" in such a case, the court said.

The Supreme Court said it -- and not the lower courts -- were responsible for handling the case of Santrich, whose real name is Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, due to his status as an elected lawmaker.

Santrich was on a list of members of the newly created Common Alternative Revolutionary Force political party due to take up one of 10 congress seats reserved for the communists as part of the historic 2016 peace accord that ended more than a half century of armed conflict.

The pact stipulated that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia would turn into a political party, using the same FARC acronym as its predecessor, with 10 seats reserved in congress until 2026.

But Santrich, who is blind, was captured by authorities before he could take up his senate seat.

Although the 52-year-old was released from detention earlier this month following an order by the special peace court tasked with judging crimes committed during Colombia's long armed conflict, he was re-arrested as he left prison.

Under pressure from Washington, Ivan Duque's government is firmly opposed to liberating Santrich and has ratified its intention to extradite him to the US.

Under the terms of the peace accord signed in December 2016 between FARC rebels and the government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos, former guerrillas who commit crimes after the pact was signed are tried in a normal court and lose the benefits afforded by the accord, such as a ban on extradition.

The accusations against Santrich, who professes his innocence, crucially date from June 2017 to April 2018, after the peace accord was signed.

The FARC party has denounced the accusations against Santrich as a "judicial setup."