Colombia Three set to escape jail threat

THE Colombian government appears to have given up its pursuit of the so-called Colombia Three.

The Justice Department has been waiting almost nine months for the Colombian government to respond to a request seeking clarification on the position of the trio.

When Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly fled the country and arrived back in Ireland last year, the Colombian government said it wanted them extradited as a matter of urgency.

However, the Irish Examiner has learned that despite sending a letter to the Colombian authorities in Bogota last November, seeking to establish what the government there wanted to do about the three men, given the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, there has been no reply.

A number of options, including signing the Council of European Convention, could have been pursued by the Colombian government if it wanted the men jailed.

Under the convention, prisoners sentenced in a foreign state who return to their native country without spending time in jail can be made serve their sentence in their homeland.

However, Colombia’s judicial system would have to adhere to international standards to achieve that, and most observers agree that it falls short of requirements.

The three men fled Colombia before the judgment of an appeal court, sitting in private, was due to deliver its verdict on charges against them of training FARC guerrillas in explosives techniques.

In their absence, the appeal court imposed 17-year sentences on the men.

The three had been acquitted of the charge at their original trial, but the country’s Attorney General’s office ordered the retrial.

Senator Mary White, who attended the court hearings, said the lack of response from the Colombians shows that the charges were “a joke”.

“I was there seven times to attend the court hearing and there was no evidence to show the men were guilty,” she said. “The court found them innocent but the government weren’t happy with that and ordered a retrial in what can only be described as a kangaroo court; that wouldn’t happen in a democratic country.

“Colombia is bordering on a neo-totalitarian state and the failure of the Colombian authorities to respond to the letter from the justice department shows that the charges were a farce and a joke.”

When the three returned to Ireland in August 2005, Tánaiste Mary Harney, speaking on behalf of Justice Minister Michael McDowell, suggested they could serve their prison sentence in Ireland.

No one from the Justice Department was available for comment yesterday.

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