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Top Colombian cops lose jobs over scandal
( 2003-11-12 16:33) (Agencies)

The commander of the Colombian National Police and five other senior police officers have lost their jobs after lawmen in Medellin dined in the most exclusive restaurants, bought expensive jewelry and staged lavish parties ! all on government money.

President Alvaro Uribe, an anti-corruption crusader, accepted the resignations late Tuesday of National Police Chief Gen. Teodoro Campo and his four closest deputies, said presidential spokesman Ricardo Galan. Uribe also fired Medellin's police chief, Gen. Leonardo Gallego, Galan said.

In a country whose government is trying to raise money to fight drug trafficking and guerrillas, the scale of the spending spree by police in Medellin was astounding. One single restaurant bill came to almost $1,700.

"The police are very good clients of ours. They come here often and have an open tab," an employee at Medellin's expensive La Fragata restaurant told the newsmagazine Semana, which first reported the scandal.

The officers also bought expensive whiskey. At upscale shops, they purchased Mont Blanc pens, glittering watches and jewelry.

Gallego, the fired police chief of Colombia's second-largest city, learned of the lavish spending when a woman who allegedly had been hiding receipts for a police captain in charge of department funds turned them over to authorities. Gallego confirmed there were more than 1,000 receipts covering a three-year period and that they showed extravagant spending.

"No one is going to elude responsibility here," Gallego told reporters before being fired.

Semana said the money involved ! whose total has not been released ! apparently came from funds meant to pay police informants and protect witnesses. Gallego, however, said the cash came from a variety of sources, including contributions to the police department.

Colombian Inspector General Edgardo Maya said he would investigate the case.

Bogota police chief Gen. Jorge Castro was named to replace Campo.

The ouster of the police commanders comes as Uribe is also carrying out a shakeup of his Cabinet. Uribe replaced three Cabinet ministers ! the minister of defense, of the interior and of the environment ! in the space of less than a week for various reasons.

Uribe, a hardliner who was elected by a landslide last year on pledges to crack down on leftist rebels and on corruption, still has almost three years remaining in his term.

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