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SEPTEMBER 2020

Colombia’s Supreme Court Opens Another Criminal Investigation Against Former President Alvaro Uribe

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Colombia’s Supreme Court Opens Another Criminal Investigation Against Former President Alvaro Uribe

Former President Alvaro Uribe

The net may finally be closing in on Senator and former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. He is Colombia’s equivalent of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, constituting the epicentre of power politics for almost two decades since he was first elected president by a landslide in 2002. He served in that capacity until 2010, and has remained one of the most powerful personalities in the Colombian political-military establishment ever since.

Although many of his closest lieutenants and associates have been prosecuted and are serving long prison sentences for crimes committed during this period (2002-2010), and in many cases Uribe has been implicated in them and it is inconceivable that they could have been commissioned and carried out without his knowledge, he has thus far managed to divert and avoid all accusations against him notwithstanding a large number of outstanding investigations which seem to be frozen in time and lost in space.

There are a multitude of investigations pending before a Congressional committee that show no signs of progress after many years. There are about a dozen investigations before the Supreme Court that remain stuck in the preliminary stages, again in some instances for many years. As some of the cases have approached preliminary hearings, the Supreme Court has found its position threatened as Uribe’s political colleagues and allies in the Congress have been trying to push through sweeping changes to the judicial system which coincidentally would abolish the Supreme Court completely. Earlier this year the plenary bench of the Supreme Court abdicated many of its powers when the sitting magistrates failed to reach agreement over the appointment of new members.

Finally, on numerous occasions key witnesses against Uribe have turned up dead (it still flabbergasts me, why can’t prosecutors and magistrates take testimony at the moment a witness is identified or very shortly thereafter – in this respect, former paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso could well be at the top of the endangered species list).

On the 15th of May, the Investigative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice opened a preliminary investigation against Álvaro Uribe, pursuant to a complaint that arrived to the court by email. According to the complaint, Uribe was the recipient of information obtained through illegal interceptions and surveillance that military intelligence officers were carrying out against journalists, politicians, lawyers and government opponents. This is the latest preliminary investigation known against Uribe, but it is not the only one. At least two Supreme Court magistrates involved in investigating Uribe have been targets of the illegal intercepts and surveillance, either by military intelligence units directly or by other extremely powerful and well-equipped groups.

The only investigation against Uribe that, until now, has gone from a preliminary stage to a formal stage of investigation is the case initiated against him for the alleged manipulation of witnesses. Uribe is accused of trying to distort the testimony of a former paramilitary member who has implicated Uribe in the creation of the Self-Defence Forces (paramilitary groups) in Antioquia. In July of 2018 the Supreme Court notified him of an investigation for procedural fraud and bribery.

The proceeding was interrupted, and new magistrates eventually took over the case. In August of 2019, the Investigative Chamber ratified the decision to summon him to testify in relation to the pending investigation, an action that was carried out in October 2019. After listening to him and asking him questions, as well as collecting evidence and testimony, Colombia is waiting for the presiding magistrate, César Reyes Medina, to define Uribe’s legal situation, that is, whether he will close the case or proceed with the criminal investigation.

As of October of last year, there were 14 investigations against Uribe in the preliminary stage, and only one in the formal stage. The majority of these preliminary processes in the court are for libel and slander, such as the denunciations of the journalist Daniel Coronell or the ex-magistrate Iván Velásquez for messages that he has published on his Twitter account. The number of preliminary cases may now be lower because some of the cases of libel and slander have been closed or resolved.

The formal investigation against Uribe that is currently being assessed by Supreme Court magistrate César Reyes Medina is for the alleged manipulation of witnesses to testify against opposition member of Congress Iván Cepeda. The inquiry against Uribe was opened after the Court rejected a complaint by Uribe against Cepeda, accusing him of fabricating testimonies and pressuring former paramilitaries to testify against Uribe.

The court eventually determined that, contrary to what the former president alleged, the evidence suggested that it was Uribe who had been pressuring witnesses to testify against Iván Cepeda. Thus, in that case Uribe went from being the complainant to being the accused.

Another preliminary investigation is being carried out against Uribe for facts that link him to the hacker Andrés Sepúlveda, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage against the presidency’s team of negotiators of the peace process with the FARC-EP (Uribe’s successor Juan Manuel Santos was president at the time).

Pursuant to the case, a warrant was obtained to search the Army’s communications battalion, in Facatativá (Cundinamarca), on December 18 of last year. That investigation began because in 2015 the Prosecutor’s Office requested documents from the Court to assess whether Sepúlveda’s testimony was true. Sepulvada had said that the former president received confidential information from some military personnel who were opposed to the peace process.

Another investigation against Uribe which remains in the preliminary stages is related to the audios of the assassinated ex-cattle rancher José Guillermo ‘Ñeñe’ Hernández. In the audios between ‘el Ñeñe’ and a woman who allegedly is Claudia Daza (she has been called for questioning by the Prosecutor’s Office), who was an adviser to Senator Uribe, there is talk of an alleged entry of illicit money in the presidential campaign of Iván Duque and the former president is also mentioned. That inquiry was opened after a complaint by Gonzalo Guillén and Daniel Mendoza in which they identified alleged electoral crimes. The case is before the office of magistrate Misael Rodríguez. LINK

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