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Master of Scaremonies
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Hiring of psychic taints Colombian prosecutor's office


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Colombia's chief prosecutor hired a psychic who hypnotized his staff and even performed an exorcism over a voodoo doll in exchange for a government paycheque and use of an armoured car.

The ensuing scandal has mesmerized the nation.

The federal prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, says he hired Armando Marti last year to help his stressed-out staff deal with a crushing caseload and to improve human relations.

Marti, a self-described clairvoyant, claims to have implicated corrupt workers in illegal wiretaps and bribery during the months he spent roaming the prosecutor's heavily fortified bunker, hypnotizing officials and writing up classified reports for Iguaran about staff loyalty.

He says workers confessed to deep secrets and ratted out colleagues as they stared into his eyes. The operation, according to leaked documents published by the newsweekly Semana, was code-named "Mission Perseus of Zeus."

The revelation that Marti was granted unfettered access has plunged into scandal one of Colombia's most respected institutions, an independent body responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes in a country torn by decades of violent, drug-fuelled conflict.

In one incident, recounted by Marti to Semana, he performed a candlelit exorcism to neutralize a voodoo doll found stabbed with needles in the wastebasket of Iguaran's former top assistant.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Marti called the Semana article, titled "The Federal Prosecutor's Rasputin," accurate but sought to dispel the emphasis it placed on black magic.

"My work didn't consist of witchcraft or anything paranormal, but scientifically proven techniques to boost morale and release tension among the staff," he said.

The fact that Marti rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful came as little surprise in Colombia. Posted on his website - before overloaded bandwidth took it off-line - are photos with a bevy of famous former clients, including President Alvaro Uribe.

What scandalized Colombians were revelations that the federal prosecutor's office paid the psychic as much as $1,800 a month and authorized him to carry a pistol, an employee badge and to ride around in a government-issued armoured vehicle.

Marti said he became a confidante of Iguaran, one of the country's most trusted politicians, by helping him overcome marital problems. When the Dalai Lama visited Colombia in May, Marti arranged a private, two-hour meeting for the chief prosecutor with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

On Monday, Iguaran delivered a televised apology to the nation for the "unfortunate incident that began as something folksily quaint but that has now ended up affecting the institutional well-being of the federal prosecutor's office."

He said he had ordered his office to terminate its contract with the consulting team to which Marti belongs. He also offered to co-operate with any congressional investigation.

What remains unanswered is who leaked the embarrassing information - and why.

Iguaran has attributed the leak to "dark forces." His potential enemies include cocaine kingpins trying to prevent extradition to the United States and government officials accused of working on their behalf.

In recent months, Iguaran has brought homicide charges against an army colonel and 14 of his men in the slaughter of an elite 10-man anti-drug unit. Officials originally described the May 22 killings as a case of friendly fire, but Iguaran alleged they were murders on behalf of drug traffickers.

Iguaran insists his relationship with Marti didn't affect his professional duty to uphold the law, but his loyalty to the psychic, even in the wake of the scandal, has left Colombia spellbound.

And up to this point I had complete faith in the Colombian criminal justice system.....
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