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Television crew assaulted while investigating alleged housing fraud in Bogotá

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 27 September 2007, a crew of journalists from the television news programme Caracol Noticias was assaulted by two people as they were investigating a case of alleged fraud in the sale of homes for low-income families. The journalists were pelted with stones and threatened with a blunt weapon. The incident took place in the capital city, Bogotá.

Amparo Bernal, a victim of the fraud scheme, had informed the news programme about how he, along with other families, had been cheated when he was sold a home that was being built by the district's fund for popular housing (Caja de Vivienda Popular), an urban development entity. When he and other buyers went to take possession of their homes, they found them already occupied by others. According to the claims of the defrauded, a former city councilor, Mariano Porras, is responsible for the fraud scheme.

Journalist Julia Navarrete, camera operator Juan Carlos Gerena, and their assistant Carlos Andrés García had entered the housing development to investigate Bernal's story. After interviewing various residents and taking photographs of the housing lots, the crew sought out the administrators of the project. When they inquired about Porras, a man and a woman approached them, shouting insults. The man chased them, wielding a "machete" - a short blunt weapon. The woman, meanwhile, pelted them with stones. Gerena was wounded when struck by a stone, and the crew's camera was damaged. The assault lasted 20 minutes, until the crew was able to flee in their vehicle. Shortly after, the police arrived on the scene but the assailants had since departed.

Navarrete told FLIP that she was concerned by the incident, all the more so since it appears that the assailants are members of a youth gang employed by Porras. "When we arrived to the neighbourhood, various people told us to be careful because 'we didn't know with whom it was we were messing, this is a mafia', they told us," added Navarrete.

Darío Fernando Patiño, co-director of news programming for Canal Caracol, told FLIP that a complaint about the incident had been filed with the Attorney General's Office.

According to Navarrete's research, Porras was convicted in 2005 for committing fraud in the sale and construction of homes. It appears that Porras works with a network of youth gangs, who threaten the defrauded families to prevent them from filing complaints.

Navarrete was the victim of threats in the past, when, from 2001 to 2003, she reported on drug-trafficking and paramilitary groups in Colombia. Ever since, she has been under official state protection.

FLIP is concerned by this incident and calls upon the authorities to ensure the journalists' safety and to investigate the case so as to ensure that those responsible are punished.

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