Former senator and former president of the chamber, Arturo Char, has been served an international arrest warrant from the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice. Char is accused of electoral corruption and vote-buying in his region, the Caribbean coast. The politician from the Radical Change party became embroiled in the vote-buying case following accusations by former legislator Aida Merlano and the start of the “Vote-Buying Case in Atlantico” in 2018. Char had been under investigation since 2019.
Interpol Red Notice
The arrest warrant, issued by the Colombian judiciary, is accompanied by an Interpol Red Notice. This is because the former senator resides in the United States. The member of the powerful and controversial Char family, one of the most important political clans in the country, received the detention order as a precautionary measure “to guarantee the integrity of the investigative process,” according to the judicial document.
For his part, the former senator reacted on his social media, justifying his silence and stating that he does not want to engage in public debate. “I have always respected the actions of the judicial authorities, and for that reason, I have never discussed the details of the case in public media,” he wrote on his X account.
No Clarification on Surrender
However, Arturo Char did not clarify whether he would surrender to Colombian justice or not. “I have exercised my rights and will continue to do so to demonstrate my absolute innocence. The lies of Mrs. Merlano will eventually be exposed, not only before my judges but also before public opinion,” Char added in his statement, discrediting Aída Merlano, who implicated him in the vote-buying case.
A Way of Understanding Politics
The Char family holds political hegemony in Barranquilla and the entire Atlantico region. The patriarch, Fuad Char, was a senator of the Republic, ambassador to Portugal, and even president of the most representative football club on the Colombian coast, Junior de Barranquilla. His sons, Alex and Arturo, have also had prominent public lives. Meanwhile, another son, Antonio Char, was the president of the Olímpica supermarket chain.
In 2020, David Char, a nephew of Fuad and cousin of Arturo Char, admitted before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) that he had participated in vote-buying in Atlántico. David Char also admitted to having associated with a paramilitary group to achieve this end.
The Char clan has been splashed with corruption allegations on several occasions but has survived politically. Today, another member of the political clan, the current mayor of Barranquilla, Jaime Pumarejo, enjoys the highest approval rating of any Colombian mayor for his management.
Given this, it is worth noting the influence and political power that the Char family holds in their region, without allegations of corruption affecting their social support. It remains to be seen how this detention order affects the political health of the clan and the candidacy of Arturo’s brother, Alejandro Char, who is running for mayor of Barranquilla, a position he previously held from 2016 to 2020. So far, his candidacy had been leading in the polls.
The Case Dates Back to 2018
Former congresswoman Aída Merlano, who built her political career under the Conservative Party and in the shadow of the Char family, was sentenced in 2022 to 5 years and 6 months in prison for electoral corruption. According to the court, the incident occurred in 2017 during the Senate election campaign.
This is the second conviction Merlano has received for electoral corruption. In September 2019, she was already sentenced for crimes such as conspiracy to commit a crime, vote-buying, and illegal possession of weapons. The sentence was confirmed by the Penal Chamber. Therefore, Aída Merlano should serve a total of 15 years in prison. After her spectacular escape from prison, taking advantage of a medical appointment while serving her sentence, and her subsequent arrest and extradition from Venezuela, the former senator has shown willingness to cooperate with the justice system.
Since then, accusations against her political mentor, Arturo Char, have revealed a case of electoral corruption that goes far beyond the two politicians.
In her statement to the Supreme Court, Merlano accused Arturo Char of vote-buying and of acting in a coordinated manner, allowing them to obtain a significant number of seats in the country’s chambers.
In reality, the case encompasses a multitude of politicians who make up the so-called “Casa Blanca” (White House). Among its most recognized members are the Char family, Roberto Gerlein, Julio Gerlein, Laureano Acuña, and José David Name.
In other audio recordings in the possession of the prosecutor’s office, Laureano Acuña allegedly expressed the need to buy 70,000 votes. In the recordings, Acuña mentioned names of various politicians involved in the practice, acknowledging that “everyone does it.”
Beyond Electoral Corruption
In a 2022 audio recording, it was explained how Fuad and Alejandro Char provided 6 billion pesos to finance Aída Merlano’s campaign through the Serfinanza bank, owned by the Char family.
Later, it was also revealed that the family had offered up to 1.5 billion pesos to kidnap and assassinate Merlano. This was reported by Miguel Ángel del Río, Merlano’s lawyer. The attorney detailed at the time an elaborate plan to make Merlano disappear, simulating a false escape that was actually intended to physically eliminate the former congresswoman.