ColombiaOne.comColombia newsFormer Congressional President Arturo Char Released Due to Expiration of the Term

Former Congressional President Arturo Char Released Due to Expiration of the Term

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Arturo Char released
Former congressional president Arturo Char released due to expiration of term. Credit: Arturo Char / Facebook

The former president of the Congress of Colombia and brother of the mayor of Barranquilla, Arturo Char, has been released due to the expiration of the term. Char, who was arrested on September 7, 2023, is being investigated for allegedly committing the crimes of conspiracy to commit a crime and aggravated corruption of voters. After the 120 days legally stipulated, the politician’s lawyer filed a Habeas Corpus requesting the release of his client due to the time established by law to bring charges against Char having expired.

Finally, and after no little controversy, a judge in Santa Marta, the city where he was provisionally imprisoned after having been transferred from Bogota in mid-December, granted the politician his freedom. Arturo Char is a member of the powerful Char family, which dominates political life in the city of Barranquilla. He was president of the Junior soccer club and senator for several terms, becoming president of the legislative chamber during the 2020-2021 term.

“Expiration of the term” and a sense of impunity

This situation, which Colombian law calls “expiration of the term”, is commonplace in the country, and has served to grant freedom to alleged criminals provisionally incarcerated on more than one occasion. The law stipulates that the trial hearing against a detained person must begin within 120 days of the arrest and the filing of the indictment.

Once this time has elapsed, the judge may decree the release of the defendant who is in pre-trial detention, if requested by the defense. This has happened on several occasions in high-profile cases of political corruption in Colombia or in criminal proceedings against drug traffickers.

For many Colombian citizens, this is perceived as a form of impunity for the elite, as it is often seen in judicial cases against powerful and influential people. However, for legal experts, it is a way of guaranteeing people’s rights. In this sense, the legal process does not stop, but it does allow the release of the detained person while the trial begins.

For now, Arturo Char has left the military facilities in the city of Santa Marta, where he was detained, and is free while waiting for the hearings against him to begin.

The shadow of Aida Merlano

Arturo Char stands accused of massive vote buying in the department of Atl√°ntico, a region that his family has controlled politically for many years. This illegal act is alleged to have been committed in October 2017, shortly before the legislative elections of March 2018.

The former congresswoman Aida Merlano, convicted for the same crimes that Arturo Char is accused of, is one of the main accusers against various members of the Char family, including Alejandro Char, brother of the now released and current mayor of Barranquilla. Merlano, who was extradited from Venezuela after starring in a dramatic escape in 2019, argues that the influential family ran a network of widespread corruption in their region with the function of buying votes.

In this context, the ex-politician claimed that Alejandro Char provided her with a bag containing 500 million Colombian pesos to fraudulently finance the 2018 legislative elections from his electoral headquarters of the so-called Casa Blanca, in Barranquilla. Merlano explained her escape as a plan orchestrated to prevent her from testifying against Arturo Char, in a dark case that ended with her denunciation of several members of the Char family, whom she accuses of kidnapping, rape and plotting to assassinate her.

Arturo Char released
The White House was Aida Merlano’s electoral headquarters in 2018. Credit: Hora 724 / CC BY 3.0

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