Prosecutor asks for hearing on shelving case against Colombia's Uribe

Julia Symmes Cobb
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Colombia's former president Uribe testifies in private hearing at Supreme Court of Justice in Bogota

By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's attorney general on Friday asked for a hearing to possibly shelve an investigation into former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe's involvement in alleged witness tampering, signaling the potential end of a landmark legal battle in the Andean country.

The decision is likely to enflame Uribe's critics, who have alleged for months the attorney general's office would be less rigorous in the investigation than the Supreme Court, which originally was charged with the case.

"After a comprehensive evaluation of the probatory material elements, physical evidence and the information legally obtained during the course of this process, the prosecutor in this case established that various conducts which judicially involved the ex-congressman do not have the characteristic of crime, and others which do cannot be attributed (to him) as author or participant," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

Those who are classed as victims can appeal the decision, the statement said.

Uribe and several allies have been investigated over allegations of witness tampering carried out in an attempt to discredit accusations he had ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

Uribe, a mentor to current President Ivan Duque, has always insisted he is innocent.

"Thank God for this positive step," Uribe said on Twitter.

Uribe was placed under house arrest for just over two months last year in connection with the case, after an order by the Supreme Court.

He also resigned his senate seat, leading the court to transfer the case to the attorney general's office.

In 2012, Uribe accused leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to paramilitaries.

But in 2018, the Supreme Court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries. Instead the court said it was Uribe and his allies who pressured witnesses.

"(The prosecutor's) request for preclusion would not have any probatory basis and would be an embarrassment for justice in Colombia," Cepeda said on Twitter on Thursday, using the Colombian legal term for requesting to shelve the case.

The case could have led to a prison term of up to 12 years for Uribe.

The request will draw quick reaction from opponents and supporters alike, but the case is not done, said political risk consultant Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis.

"A judge is going to decide and this is how rule of law works, so let's wait and see what the prosecutor argues," he said. Whatever the decision, he said, already low public trust in the judicial system in Colombia hangs in the balance.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)