Interpol: E-mails linking Venezuela, FARC are legitimate

BOGOTA — Interpol said Thursday that it is "absolutely certain'' that documents linking the Venezuelan and Ecuadorean governments to Colombia's FARC guerillas came from computers belonging to slain rebel leader Raul Reyes and that the documents were not modified or altered in any way.

Investigators from the international security body examined three laptop computer hard drives, three portable thumb drives and two external hard drives that the Colombian government said it seized after a cross-border raid March 1 that killed Reyes in Ecuador.

"We are absolutely certain that the computers came from a jungle camp and they belonged to the FARC. It was the physical equipment belonging to Reyes,'' Ronald Noble, head of Interpol, said during a news conference.

Interpol's forensic exam was limited to certifying the integrity of the electronic files. Investigators did not analyze the content of close to 38,000 e-mails and 210,000 pictures and videos, which indicate that the Marxist-inspired FARC rebels had a cozy relationship with the governments of both Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

The documents released so far by Colombian authorities indicate that rebel leaders met regularly with Venezuelan Interior Minister RamÐn RodrÏguez Chacin, who on at least one occasion asked the FARC to provide guerrilla warfare training for an unidentified armed group in Venezuela.

The documents also indicate that the rebels were trying to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and uranium on the black market, that they claimed to have contributed $100,000 to Correa's presidential campaign and that they were promised friendly border officers by the interior minister of Ecuador, Gustavo Larrea.

Interpol said in a statement distributed Wednesday that it actually worked from "mirror images'' — copies of the disks — not from the originals. Colombia's judicial police kept the originals to safeguard what it considers potential evidence for future prosecutions, officials said.

John Christopher, senior data recovery engineer at DriveSavers, a data recovery service based in California, said that an analyst can get the same amount of information from a mirror image as from the original.

"It's a very common practice in data recovery,'' he said.

Colombia's vice minister of the defense, Sergio Jaramillo, said that Bogota has closely guarded the chain of custody of the computers.

"The finding was captured in video and we even sent a team from the judicial police into the camp, shortly after the military entered, to collect and bag the evidence. On that same day the judicial police contacted a prosecutor,'' he said on Thursday.

The files found in the FARC computers — mostly e-mail correspondence between rebel leaders — were the basis for Colombia's police chief Gen. Mario Naranjo's explosive March allegations that Chavez offered $300 million to the FARC this year and accepted some $150,000 from the rebels in the 1990s.

Chavez has denied the accusations.

Both the United States and the European Union consider the FARC a terrorist group. This means that any organization or country supporting the rebels can be subjected to sanctions for sponsoring terrorism.

Several U.S. lawmakers have called on the Bush administration to designate Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, a label that could trigger U.S. economic sanctions against Caracas.

(Herald correspondent Tyler Bridges in Caracas and special correspondent Jenny Carolina Gonzalez in Bogota contributed to this report.)