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Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Charged in Witness Tampering Case

Fraud, Bribery & CorruptionFormer Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Charged in Witness Tampering Case

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was charged on Friday in a protracted witness tampering investigation.

Uribe faces formal charges of witness tampering and bribery for attempting to discredit a political rival who was investigating his family’s connections to right-wing paramilitary groups. If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison.

The case dates back to 2012 when Uribe accused leftist lawmaker Iván Cepeda of slander before the Supreme Court. In 2018, the high court, the sole authority to investigate lawmakers, closed the case against Cepeda and instead opened a new investigation into Uribe for fraud and manipulating testimony.

Uribe, who led Colombia with strong U.S. support from 2002 to 2010, has denied the allegations, claiming the charges are a result of “political vengeance” by Colombia’s chief prosecutor’s office.

Evidence includes wiretapped phone conversations in which Uribe is heard discussing efforts with his lawyer to persuade two former paramilitary fighters to testify in his favor. Uribe contends these conversations were intercepted illegally.

This lengthy legal battle is unfolding against a backdrop of political polarization in Colombia, further intensified by the 2022 election of President Gustavo Petro, a former leftist rebel and Uribe critic.

Uribe remains a highly influential figure in Colombian politics, with a substantial following. He notably led the successful “no” campaign against a peace agreement with leftist rebels in 2016, though a revised version of the accord was later implemented.

Since the early 1980s, Uribe has faced allegations of links to drug cartels and paramilitaries, starting when he led the civil aviation agency accused of granting air licenses to drug traffickers. Declassified State Department cables from the 1990s also indicated U.S. officials were informed of his connections to cartels.

The intense media coverage and public emotions surrounding the case have complicated the work of Colombia’s justice system, which has historically struggled to hold prominent political and military figures accountable.

Before Petro’s presidency, Colombian prosecutors attempted twice to close the witness tampering case, citing insufficient evidence against Uribe. Both attempts were denied by judges. However, in April, following Petro’s appointment of a new attorney general, prosecutors decided to proceed with the trial.

Friday’s hearing was conducted via video conference, with Uribe playing a minor role while his lawyer handled most of the defense. Chief prosecutor Gilberto Ivan Villareal accused Uribe of abusing his influential position to manipulate witnesses against Cepeda.

Uribe was briefly placed under house arrest in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic by Supreme Court order but was released soon after resigning from the Senate. This resignation resulted in the case being transferred from the high court to prosecutors.

By FCCT Editorial Team

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity.

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