Colombia: Prevalence of fraudulent documents, including whether genuine documents can be obtained using false information; reports of fraudulent documents such as letters of employment, letters about community activism or involvement in a teacher's union (2016-October 2019) [COL106376.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Prevalence of Fraudulent Documents
1.1 Travel and Identity Documents

According to a May 2016 article in La Opinión, a Colombian newspaper based in Cúcuta, reporting on information provided by Colprensa, the Colombian state news agency, Colombian Migration (Migración Colombia) agents shut down a factory in Cali [translation] "dedicated to the production of false identification cards [cédulas], civil records and driver's licenses" used by irregular migrants (La Opinión 27 May 2016). The same source reports that the factory produced over one thousand fraudulent documents per month (La Opinión 27 May 2016).

In a November 2016 article by El Tiempo, a Colombian daily newspaper, it is reported that seven registrars were arrested, allegedly as part of a migrant trafficking network, for using their positions in Malambo, Candelaria, Ponedera, Luruaco, Santo Tomás and Barranquilla to issue extemporaneous civil birth registrations (registros civiles de nacimiento) [see section 1.2 of this Response] to foreign citizens through the use of false witnesses; investigators found that [translation] "in some cases, a single person served as a witness to more than 1,700 registrations" (El Tiempo 16 Nov. 2016). The source also indicates that the foreign citizens, mainly Venezuelans and Cubans, paid between 600,000 and 1,000,000 Colombian pesos (COP) [C$230-383], and used their civil registrations to request citizen identity cards (cédula de ciudadanía) and travel documents (El Tiempo 16 Nov. 2016). Another November 2016 article by the same source on the same arrests reports that the migrant trafficking network, which was behind the processing of 8,000 false citizenships, was connected to a larger network that involved 68,000 cases of false citizenship across the country (El Tiempo 17 Nov. 2016). The Associated Press (AP) similarly reports that

Colombia has arrested several officials accused of selling fake ID cards used to smuggle more than 8,000 migrants into the country illegally, mostly from Cuba and Venezuela. … Authorities said … that the seven current and former officials from the national registry office in Barranquilla charged as much as [US]$220 for each document. (AP 16 Nov. 2016)

According to an April 2017 article by Radio Televisión Martí, a US government-funded Cuban-oriented news station based in Miami (US n.d.), a trafficking network involving Colombian politicians and public servants, including a registrar in Cundinamarca, was uncovered as being involved in the smuggling of Cuban and Venezuelan nationals; Cubans were reportedly charged approximately [US]$6,000 to obtain false documents that would subsequently be used to apply for Colombian passports (Radio Televisión Martí 19 Apr. 2017). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In a series investigating organized crime in Bogotá, a December 2017 report by W Radio, a Colombian news radio station, states that citizens can purchase, among other documents, false permits and IDs, including driver's licenses, for amounts ranging from 30,000 to 3 million COP [C$12-1,164] (W Radio 7 Dec. 2017). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

A July 2019 article appearing on the website of Radio Santa Fe, a news radio station in Bogotá, indicates that, in joint operations between the District Mobility Secretariat (Secretaría Distrital de Movilidad) and police in Puente Aranda [a district in Bogotá], authorities arrested ten citizens with false documents over the course of approximately two weeks; the District Mobility Secretariat indicated that there are 3,638 active investigations over [translation] "falsehood[s] in public documents" (falsedad en documento público) (Radio Santa Fe 16 July 2019). According to the same source, the arrests were framed in relation to articles 286 and 287 of Colombia's Penal Code [see section 2.1 of this Response] (Radio Santa Fe 16 July 2019). Corroborating information and information on the specific documents that were falsified could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources indicate that in 2019, a network of counterfeiters sold Special Residence Permits [Permisos Especiales de Permanancia, PEP] to Venezuelan citizens for the price of 100,000-150,000 COP [C$39-58] (Colprensa 12 Sept. 2019; El Colombiano 30 Aug. 2019). Further information, including the number of residence permits distributed, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.2 Extemporaneous Birth Registration

According to sources, Colombia allows extemporaneous birth registration before the civil registry (Ámbito Jurídico 8 Mar. 2017; Colombia 4 July 2017). According to a publication of the Office of the National Civil Registry (Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil) of the Colombian government on birth registration of Colombian children born in Venezuela, in the absence of a [translation] "duly legalized [apostillado]" Venezuelan birth registration, it is possible to seek registration with the support of two witnesses to the birth (Colombia 4 July 2017). According to the same source, bringing witnesses for extemporaneous birth registration who are not able to confirm the facts of the birth can lead to criminal charges and imprisonment, including for false testimony, bribery, migrant trafficking, and child trafficking, in addition to cancelling the birth record and the identification documents issued on the basis of false testimony (Colombia 4 July 2017).

1.3 Other Documents

A June 2019 article by El Tiempo indicates that, since the beginning of 2019, 419 persons had been caught carrying false driving documents, 77 percent of which were driver's licenses, according to Bogotá's Traffic Police (Policía de Tránsito) (El Tiempo 4 June 2019). According to the same article, the National Police (Policía Nacional) apprehended 3,719 individuals with fraudulent documents in 2018, 72 percent of which had fraudulent driver's licenses (El Tiempo 4 June 2019).

Colprensa reported the following incidents in 2018:

  • The arrest of 12 public servants from the National Institute for Food and Drug Surveillance (Instituto Nacional de Vigilancia de Medicamentos y Alimentos, INVIMA) for charges including bribery and forgery of documents (Colprensa 29 Aug. 2018);
  • The arrest of a public servant working for the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación), for the false validation of medical degrees from universities in Argentina and Peru (Colprensa 27 July 2018); and
  • A [translation] "number of irregularities" involving "alleged accountants" who reportedly falsified documents indicating fulfillment of legal requirements for over 100 people with "financial problems" (Colprensa 25 Apr. 2018).

Information regarding fraudulent letters of employment, letters about community activism, or involvement in a teacher's union could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. State Response

The December 2017 article by W Radio indicates that, according to figures from the Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía General de la Nación), between January and November 2017, 4,252 proceedings against falsification of documents were being advanced, with many cases being related to the issuance of public deeds, income certificates and documents to obtain loans and old-age pensions (W Radio 7 Dec. 2017).

2.1 Legislation

Law 599 of 2000, the Criminal Code of Colombia, provides the following on fraudulent documents:

[translation]

Article 286. Public document tampering (Falsedad ideológica en documento público). A public servant who, in the exercise of his/her functions, and in issuing a public document that may serve as evidence, enters a falsehood or omits all or part of the truth, shall be subject to four (4) to eight (8) years in prison and shall be barred from exercising rights and from holding public office for five (5) to ten (10) years.

Article 287. Forgery of a public document (Falsedad material en documento público). A person who forges a public document that may serve as evidence shall be subject to three (3) to six (6) years in prison.

If the conduct is carried out by a public servant in the exercise of his/her functions, the penalty shall be from four (4) to eight (8) years in prison and he/she shall be barred from exercising rights and from holding public office for five (5) to ten (10) years.

Article 288. Obtaining a false public document. A person who, in order to obtain a public document that may serve as evidence, misleads a public servant in the exercise of his/her functions by having him/her enter a false statement or omit all or part of the truth, shall be subject to three (3) to six (6) years in prison.

Article 289. Forgery of a private document. A person who forges a private document that may serve as evidence shall be subject, if he or she uses that document, to one (1) to six (6) years in prison.

Article 291. Use of a forged document. Amended by Art. 54, Law 1142 of 2007. A person who, without having taken part in the forgery, makes use of a forged public document that may serve as evidence shall be subject to two (2) to eight (8) years in prison.

Article 292. Destruction, deletion or concealment of a public document. A person who destroys, deletes or conceals all or part of a public document that may serve as evidence shall be subject to two (2) to eight (8) years in prison.

If the conduct is carried out by a public servant in the exercise of his/her functions, he/she shall be subject to three (3) to ten (10) years in prison and shall be barred from exercising rights and from holding public office for that same period.

In the case of a document that is an exhibit for court, the penalty shall be increased by one-third to one-half.

Article 293. Destruction, deletion or concealment of a private document. A person who destroys, deletes or conceals, in whole or in part, a private document that may serve as evidence shall be subject to one (1) to six (6) years in prison.

Article 294. Document. For the purposes of criminal law, a document is any statement by a known or recognizable person that is collected in writing or by way of any mechanically or technically printed medium, a material support that expresses or incorporates data or facts that have evidentiary capacity. (Colombia 2000)

According to sources, charges that have been or can be applied related to fraudulent documents include:

  • aggravated fraud (Colprensa 12 Sept. 2019);
  • use of a false document (Colprensa 12 Sept. 2019; El Espectador 7 Oct. 2019);
  • falsifying a document (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.a);
  • concealment and illegal possession of identity cards (El Espectador 7 Oct. 2019);
  • document tampering (falsedad ideológica) (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.a) or material falsehood in a public document (El Espectador 7 Oct. 2019).

The Colombia Legal Corporation, a law firm whose practice includes criminal law (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.b), explains that a private document is a non-formalized document, but it can become a public document when presented before a notary public (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.a). The same source further states that if a falsified private document [translation] "is not used as evidence and does not enter a legal transaction, that forgery is considered harmless and is not considered a crime, since it does not imply any harm," however, if the document is presented as evidence in any procedure or process to obtain a benefit or a right, it becomes a punishable offence (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.a). The same source also states that if an authentic document has false data and is presented as evidence, then it is considered a document that has been tampered with (or an [translation] "ideological falsehood" (falsedad ideológica)) (Colombia Legal Corporation n.d.a). According to a February 2018 article by Ámbito Jurídico, a legal newspaper based in Bogotá (Ámbito Jurídico n.d.),

[translation]

[t]he crime of obtaining a false public document provides for the possibility of punishment with deprivation of liberty to any person who, through artifice or deception, misleads a public servant, so that they, in the exercise of their functions, extends or issues a public document with the potential to prove the existence of a fact or a legal relationship that does not correspond to the truth …

Therefore, falsehood is the conscious alteration of the truth, meaning, is maliciously untruthful; and it must pertain to a public document, because what is sanctioned by criminal law is violation of the public trust … (Ámbito Jurídico 1 Feb. 2018)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Ámbito Jurídico. 1 February 2018. "Delito de obtención de documento público falso puede producirse si se induce al error al notario." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Ámbito Jurídico. 8 March 2017. "Conozca el trámite para la inscripción extemporánea de nacimiento en el Registro Civil." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Ámbito Jurídico. N.d. "Periódico Ámbito Jurídico." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019]

Associated Press (AP). 16 November 2016. "Colombia Dismantles Ring Selling Fake ID Cards to Migrants." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019]

Colombia. 4 July 2017. Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil. Inscripción extemporanéa en el Registro Civil colombiano de hijos de padre o madre colombianos nacidos en Venezuela. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Colombia. 2000. Ley 599 de 2000 (julio 24), por la cual se expide el Código Penal. Excerpts translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada. [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019]

Colombia Legal Corporation. N.d.a. "Falsificación de un documento privado y su utilización causa pena de prisión." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Colombia Legal Corporation. N.d.b. "Nosotros." [Accessed 19 Nov. 2019]

Colprensa. 12 September 2019. "Capturan a hombre que habría falsificado permiso para venezolanos." [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019]

Colprensa. 29 August 2018. "Capturan a 12 funcionarios del Invima por sobornos y falsificar documentos." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Colprensa. 27 July 2018. "7 años de cárcel para exfuncionaria de minEducación por falsificación de títulos." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Colprensa. 25 April 2018. "Cae red de falsos contadores en el país." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

El Colombiano. 30 August 2019. Juan Camilo Montoya Echavarría. "Colombiano ofrecía a venezolanos falsos permisos de permanencia." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

El Espectador. 7 October 2019. "559 personas en el ojo de la Fiscalía por posible suplantación de identidad para votar." [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019]

El Tiempo. 4 June 2019. Alicia Liliana Méndez. "Cada día son capturados dos conductores por portar documentos falsos." [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019]

El Tiempo. 17 November 2016. "Red de registradores ha 'fabricado' 68.000 falsos colombianos." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

El Tiempo. 16 November 2016. "Capturan a siete registradores por tráfico de migrantes." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

La Opinión. 27 May 2016. "Desmantelan fábrica de cédulas falsas para migrantes irregulares." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Radio Santa Fe. 16 July 2019. "Van 10 capturados por trámites con documentos falsos en SuperCADE de Movilidad." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Radio Televisión Martí. 19 April 2017. "Cae red que sacó de Colombia a 350 cubanos con documentos falsos." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

United States (US). N.d. USA.gov. "Radio y TV Martí." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019]

W Radio. 7 December 2017. "Especial de crimen organizado en Bogotá. Capítulo 1: Documentos falsos." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Colombia – Dirección de Investigación Criminal e INTERPOL de la Policía Nacional, embassy in Ottawa, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Seccional de Investigación Criminal de la Policía Nacional; Colombia Legal Corporation; Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE); Mixed Migration Centre; Thomas Greg & Sons; UN – International Organization for Migration, Colombia; US – embassy in Bogotá.

Internet sites, including: Canada – Embassy in Bogotá; Colombia – Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Policía Nacional, Fiscalía General de la Nación; ecoi.net; Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE); InSight Crime; INTERPOL; Keesing Technologies – Documentchecker; Mixed Migration Centre; Organization of American States; UN – International Organization for Migration, Office on Drugs and Crime, Refworld; US – Department of State, embassy in Bogotá.