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Financial Times

Colombia probe fails to clear BP contractor. By Robert Corzine. Wednesday, March 18, 1998

One of British Petroleum's main security contractors in Colombia could face further investigation, after a year-long inquiry failed to clear Defence System Limited (DSL) of the UK of possibly overstepping its role in the country.

However, the investigation found little evidence to support other allegations, such as that BP handed over photographs of participants in local demonstrations to the security services.

A recently completed report from the public prosecutor's office said it was still unclear whether former members of Britain's Special Air Service Regiment - employed by DSL's Colombian subsidiary - had trained members of Colombia's national police in "lethal" operations.

The report said: "To date, this office does not have clear or complete judgment basis to discard or confirm the serious charges of involvement in training national police members. . . and what this means in a situation as serious as the one currently faced by the country." The prosecutor's concern stems from whether former SAS members instructed the police in full counter-insurgency techniques, or whether such training was confined to defensive tactics to protect BP's well sites.

BP requested the prosecutor's report after numerous allegations against its Colombian operations. These included complicity in the murder of local activists opposed to BP's operations in Casanare, where leftwing guerrilla groups have repeatedly attacked the company's Cusiana and Cupiagua oil fields. BP has invested about $2bn in Colombia.

The violence in the oil region has been compounded by the emergence of paramilitary groups - some linked to large landowners - which have targeted small-scale farmers and others allegedly sympathetic to guerrillas. But the report said it was "far-fetched" to believe BP was "secretly sponsoring these forms of violence against peasants and workers".

Although the prosecutor's office concluded there were no preliminary grounds on which to charge BP with criminal offences, it said the investigation could be reopened. BP said it was not clear whether the prosecutor's concern over some aspects of DSL reflected questions about the substance of operations, or whether it resulted from lack of co-operation by Colombian police and DSL staff.