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Top Colombian official charged in US with money laundering

MIAMI (AP) — A top Colombian anti-corruption official and a lawyer are facing U.S. money-laundering-conspiracy charges in an alleged foreign bribery scheme, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, 35, and Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez, 31, were both arrested in Colombia, said Acting Miami U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg. Moreno is director of the anti-corruption office for Colombia’s chief prosecutor and Pinilla is the attorney.

Moreno and Pinilla sought to obtain thousands of dollars in bribes from a former governor of Colombia’s Cordoba region — identified in the document as a confidential source, or CS — who was under a separate corruption investigation, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit filed in Miami federal court.

The DEA document does not name the former governor, but he was identified in a statement Tuesday by Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Nestor Martinez, as former Cordoba governor Alejandro Lyons. The DEA affidavit says the former governor is in negotiations to plead guilty in the other corruption case and to cooperate against others in that case.

In his statement, Martinez expressed “profound institutional pain and indignation” over events leading to Moreno’s arrest, which involved an elite police squad under his supervision.

“This kind of conduct greatly damages the integrity of our institutions and compromises someone who had enjoyed the highest level of trust, by being assigned to one of its most-important tasks: the fight against corruption,” he said.

According to the DEA, Pinilla conveyed a message to the ex-governor that Moreno “was willing to use his official position to obstruct the corruption investigation against the CS in exchange for a fee.”

Many of the discussions between Pinilla and the CS took place in Miami — including at a suburban shopping mall and an inexpensive hotel — where the former governor has been living since April, the DEA said. DEA agents conducted surveillance during these meetings and recorded the conversations.

One meeting occurred earlier this month, on the same day Moreno came to Miami to give an anti-corruption presentation to the Internal Revenue Service, according to the affidavit. In that meeting, outside a local La Quinta Inn, “Moreno told the CS that he had the power to judicially control how the CS’s investigation would proceed.”

The DEA says Moreno discovered a hidden cellphone inside the car where the meeting took place and allegedly began to backtrack on the bribe demand.

“Moreno accused the CS of recording the conversation and began to contradict himself stating he was not asking for money and that he was sharing information with the CS because he wanted to avoid an injustice in CS’s case,” the affidavit says.

Eventually, however, Pinilla told the CS that Moreno wanted $20,000 while he was in Miami, separate from the $132,000 he sought for obstructing the investigation. The men worked out a plan to exchange an envelope of $10,000 in money the DEA uses for investigative purposes in a restroom at the Dolphin Mall west of Miami.

Some of the bills with serial numbers matching the DEA funds were found in Moreno’s luggage and photographed by customs officers before he left Miami for Bogota, Colombia. Moreno and Pinilla were arrested soon after.

Neither man has an attorney listed in the U.S. court case. It was not immediately clear when they would be extradited from Colombia.

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Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this story.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

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