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LATIN AMERICA | 25-07-2018 12:38

Colombia ex-president Uribe resigns from Senate to fight court probe

Álvaro Uribe to resign from Senate after formally being placed under investigation for alleged bribery and fraud.

Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe has announced he will resign from his Senate seat after Colombia's Supreme Court ordered him to testify on allegations of witness tampering.

Uribe, a political figure with huge influence in Colombia, tweeted that he felt "morally impeded" from continuing in his role as a senator while also mounting a defence against accusations that he has he refuted.

"I've proceeded according to the law and my rights," he wrote on Twitter, while decrying the Supreme Court's press release as a "pre-judgment."

For several years the powerful ex-chief of state has been involved in a protracted legal dispute related to long-simmering and vehemently denied claims of ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.

The conservative Uribe accused Iván Cepeda, a senator at the opposite end of the political spectrum, of pressuring prison inmates to falsely state that he was linked to one such group.

The Supreme Court found no evidence to support Uribe's claim but decided there were grounds to investigate him for manipulating witnesses instead. 

In a statement, the court provided few details about the allegations but said that after Uribe's case against Cepeda was blocked from going forward in February, "People close to ex-president Uribe began new acts of manipulating witnesses." The court said both Uribe and another lawmaker, Álvaro Hernán Prada would be asked to respond to accusations of "bribery and procedural fraud."

The statement said the court had "collected evidence" and was now opening an investigation against Uribe for "bribery and fraud." 

Cepeda told the Associated Press news agency that Uribe's associates had offered one witness a bribe in exchange for retracting accusations against the former president.

"Colombia is showing today that no one is above the law," Cepeda said.

The case comes just two weeks before President-elect Iván Duque will be sworn into office, having handily won a run-off election against ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro thanks in large part to Uribe's support. Though Uribe left the presidency in 2010, he still has legions of supporters in Colombia.

Many Colombians had speculated whether Uribe would use his position in the Senate and close relationship with Duque to sway the new president on decisive matters, such as making changes to the government's peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

On Tuesday evening, Duque said Uribe has the right of due process and presumption of innocence.

"We express our solidarity to ex-president Uribe and his family in these moments," he said. "And we are confident that his honour and innocence will prevail."

Duque said he respected "the Constitution and its institutions," and asked that the presumption of innocence of his political mentor be guaranteed.

Uribe has been dogged by allegations of links to drug cartels and paramilitaries since the start of his political career in the early 1980s, when the civil aviation agency he led was accused of giving air licenses to drug traffickers. US State Department cables declassified in May showed US officials were told more than two decades ago that Uribe had ties to drug cartels.

His brother, Santiago Uribe, is awaiting trial on charges that he was a leader of a death squad called the "Twelve Apostles" that was run from his cattle ranch.

Uribe, in a video posted on social media, has dismissed the allegations in the State Department cables as "fake news, in electoral periods and without proof."

- AP

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