There can’t be many legal jobs tougher than that of attorney general of Colombia during the 1990s, when the mineral-rich South American country was close to becoming a failed state. Happily, Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento (pictured) survived three years of bringing charges against some of the most powerful men in the country.
Obiter bumped into him last week in Bogota, now a relaxed and prosperous capital city. As a director with the UK-based professional services firm Baker Tilly, Valdivieso is building up a practice offering neighbouring countries advice on combating money laundering. The main problem, he said, is denial: Colombia was one of the first countries in Latin America to pass regulations but others haven’t yet seen the need.
Bogota also claims to be clamping down on other old failings. At the end of last year three contractors and a former mayor were jailed under a new corruption law. However, despite the return to normality over the past 10 years, standoffs continue between the government and the legal profession. In a few days last week Obiter heard of rows over amnesties for former guerrillas; over a judge’s decision to free a convicted gang leader; and over a ban on contingency fees for certain class actions. A feisty lot, Colombian lawyers. Obiter looks forward to meeting more of them.