Colombian crime-ring members freed after surrender

AP News
Posted: Dec 26, 2011 4:11 PM
Colombian crime-ring members freed after surrender

More than 200 members of a crime ring who turned themselves in to authorities have been freed because there were no charges pending against them, Colombian prosecutors said Monday.

A total of 284 members of a group called the Popular Anticommunist Revolutionary Army turned themselves in last week. Among them was the group's reputed boss, Jose Lopez Montero.

Officials said 19 members of the crime ring, including other leaders, were charged with aggravated criminal conspiracy and were in custody. Others were released.

Explaining why most were released, prosecutor Nestor Armando Novoa said at a news conference that they had not been caught committing any crime.

Maritza Gonzalez, who heads the prosecutors' investigative unit, told reporters that authorities now plan to seek the arrest of about 50 of those who were freed on new charges of aggravated criminal conspiracy.

It wasn't clear why the authorities had freed the suspects if they planned to pursue additional charges against them. Prosecutors did not return calls seeking comment.

Despite the reference to "Anticommunist" in the group's name, the crime ring does not have a clear political stance as the country's right-wing militias have in the past. Its members are accused of drug trafficking and killings.

Novoa said leaders of the group had sent authorities a letter about a month ago offering to surrender but that officials had not made them any offers.

"There was no negotiated surrender," Novoa said.

Lopez told Colombian news media recently that he was "tired of the war." It remained unclear what else, if anything, members of the group had hoped to gain by turning themselves in.