Leaked emails document AFP struggles in Colombia

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“After another three hour session today I am in the process of stopping the tools and have to reschedule next week as I keep getting different explanations.

“Please also note that we are probably beyond our capacity (and probably our abilities) regarding our translation – our translator is already working overtime for this and other matters and has to travel to Peru on Sunday for operational reasons .”

Thousands of emails between AFP and Colombian law enforcement reveal the bureaucratic difficulties faced by agents and officials. Credit:Illustration: Matthew Absalom-Wong

The emails reveal that the police department “probably” spent over $15,000 in personnel time with “no conclusive results (and) likely added to the confusion” due to translation and technical issues.

“Lessons learned for next time (in addition to failures on the Colombian side) – I’m really looking forward to working full time in an office and/or having all staff on the same computer network,” the agent wrote. .

A senior lawyer replied, “We appreciate that your resources are extremely stretched and the working arrangements are difficult.”

An AFP spokesperson said operations with Colombian law enforcement “resulted in the detection of a large quantity of drug imports to Australia and disrupted the cartels in the drugs by arrests and prosecutions by the Colombian authorities”.

Colombia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocaine in 2022 and the US government estimates that Colombian cocaine production reached 1,010 tons in 2020.

An analyst’s report describes attempts to track down a major crime figure in Colombia who was apparently using cellphones and switching languages.

It refers to “calls in another language with foreigners both in Colombia and abroad, but it was not possible [to] establish their content because they are in a language other than Spanish”.

The report states that the surveillance target “receives a text message [messages] in another language with what appear to be codes to establish virtual communication… This telephone subscriber has stopped producing audio and data, for which this is not considered relevant [to] continue the interception”.

Bureaucratic speed bumps also prevent Colombian authorities from pursuing the other side of AFP operations.

Statue of Simon Bolivar on the front of the National Capitol in Bogota, Colombia.

Statue of Simon Bolivar on the front of the National Capitol in Bogota, Colombia.Credit:Rob McFarland

Last year, Colombians demanded details of a goal “for the success of criminal prosecutions here” to bring to justice those responsible for drug trafficking seized in Mexico in 2020.

But AFP told them that “foreign requests for international criminal assistance to Australia must be accompanied by a description of the nature of the criminal case and a statement setting out a summary of the facts and applicable laws”.

“When we receive the information requested above, along with an English translation (we can help)… Please note that due to the current global COVID-19 crisis, there may be delays in responding to requests.”

Computer software upgrades also for some time prevented AFP’s Colombian office from accessing or sending information over a secure cable.

Despite these problems, the AFP has carried out dozens of successful operations, seizing more than 6 tons of MDMA, methamphetamine and cocaine in recent years.

With the help of other agencies, including AUSTRAC and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), AFP also uncovered global money laundering operations worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Hong Kong, in Colombia and Australia.

In July 2022, AFP dismantled an Australian criminal network that allegedly imported and manufactured hundreds of kilograms of cocaine under the direction of a Colombian organized crime syndicate.

In July 2022, AFP dismantled an Australian criminal network that allegedly imported and manufactured hundreds of kilograms of cocaine under the direction of a Colombian organized crime syndicate.

AFP signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with Colombia in 2013, declassified in 2016, which sets out how the countries work together.

The AFP post in Bogota has two AFP agents on permanent duty with local office staff assisting them. They also investigate crimes such as human trafficking via commercial airlines, tax evasion, money laundering, identity crimes, online child sexual abuse, and child sex tourism.

The Bogota post also provides assistance and advice to five Australian missions in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.

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