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Corrupt government officials been systematically and illegally granting land to criminals and wealthy people across Colombia for the past five years, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sources within the ministry denounced a “mafia” within government land distribution organization Incoder, working to illegally distribute land to convicted criminals and wealthy Colombians posing as peasants and victims, who the law specifies the land is for.

According to Colombian daily, El Tiempo, government officials have claimed the practice of illegally distributing state land destined for peasants has been occurring throughout Colombia, revealing cases in at least seven departments across the country, including Norte de Santander, Santander, Guaviare, Guainía, Caquetá, Antioquia and Amazonas.

The accusations from the Ministry of Agriculture accompanied the declaration from Incoder director Miriam Villegas on Wednesday that 64,000 acres of land (taken into account in the state’s agrarian reform programs) were granted to such “fake peasants” in the northeastern department of Antioquia between 2006 and 2011. According to Villegas, the land was given indiscriminately to all different kinds of people, ranging from professional contractors to paramilitaries and guerillas.

“The land was given to everyone, apart from the peasants” she said.

The case in Antioquia has already undergone a joint investigation from the Prosecutor General, the judicial branch of the police, and Incoder itself, revealing that citizens had given false statements under oath concerning the extent of their assets, their background and whether or not they already owned similar land.

13 people have been charged after the investigation and Minister for Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo is due to confront the nationwide issue on Thursday in Medellin.

Colombia’s agricultural lands have long been cause for criminal activity and armed conflict. Paramilitary and guerrilla groups for decades displaced farmers from their plots to subsequently obtain these lands legally with the help of middlemen and corrupt Incoder officials. After taking office in 2010, President Juan Manuel Santos vowed to return these lands to the rightful owners.

Additionally, the government is negotiating with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, to come to terms on an agrarian reform that seeks to diminish inequality and poverty in rural Colombia.

Johnny Crisp