BOGOTA (Reuters) – A Colombian FARC rebel leader turned lawmaker who is accused by the United States of conspiring to traffic cocaine has vanished in an apparent attempt to evade justice, President Ivan Duque said on Monday.
Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, better known by his nom de guerre, Jesus Santrich, took his congressional seat last month, days after being released from prison.
His disappearance on Sunday is the latest development in a long legal and political saga stemming from an indictment by a U.S. grand jury that accused Hernandez of trying to export 10 tonnes of cocaine worth some $320 million.
Hernandez was originally released from prison in May, before being immediately re-arrested on what the attorney general’s office said was fresh evidence. The Supreme Court later ordered his release, saying because he is a lawmaker it is the only court which can determine whether he should be extradited.
Hernandez was one of 10 members of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group set to take up congressional seats guaranteed by a 2016 peace deal.
“He has a hearing with the Supreme Court in these first days of July, and to see someone like that abandon his security detail… only shows that he wants to elude justice,” Duque told journalists. He said Hernandez had broken rules relating both to the national protection unit that provides bodyguards for public figures and to the reintegration zones where many ex-fighters live.
“I hope this subject presents himself to the law. He is attempting to elude the justice of Colombia and to mock it,” Duque added.
The national protection unit said in a statement on Sunday that Hernandez, who serves in the lower house, had been staying in a reintegration zone in Cesar province.
A note was later found in his room saying he was going to visit a son in the city of Valledupar. The unit said it was working to authenticate the note’s signature and did not know Hernandez’s current whereabouts.
In a statement on Sunday the FARC political party invited Hernandez to reaffirm his commitment to the peace deal and said any member who chose to abandon the accord or commit crimes was solely responsible for the consequences.
The United Nations said it was worried for Hernandez’s safety and urged him to appear for his scheduled court hearing on July 9.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien