Colombia prosecutors charge ex-president Uribe with witness tampering

 Colombian former president  Alvaro Uribe. [AFP]

Colombian prosecutors formally charged Alvaro Uribe on Friday with bribing witnesses and fraud in the country's first criminal trial against a former president.

Uribe is accused of "offering cash or other benefits to selected witnesses of criminal acts" so that they would not tell the truth in a case that links him to paramilitary groups, according to a document presented by prosecutor Gilberto Villarreal.

The bribery and fraud charges arise from an investigation into Uribe's alleged ties to right-wing politicians.

Uribe, 71, who was president from 2002 to 2010 and is still considered one of Colombia's most influential right-wing figures, insists he is not guilty and has sought to have the case dropped.

"I never sought to look for witnesses. I wanted to defend my reputation," Uribe said during Friday's virtual hearing.

Judge Sandra Heredia rejected his request to have the case scrapped.

Uribe faces a prison term of up to 12 years.

He said on Friday he felt hurt for being the first former president to have to defend himself in court.

Alleged phone tapping

Uribe also claimed to be the victim of a plot hatched by judges and "opponents" who used "illegal (telephone) tapping" to obtain evidence against him.

The matter dates to 2012, when Uribe, then a senator, filed a complaint against leftist senator Ivan Cepeda, whom he accused of hatching a plot to falsely link him to paramilitary groups.

But the Supreme Court decided against investigating Cepeda, instead turning its sights on Uribe.

The investigation against Uribe began in 2018 and has had numerous twists and turns, with several attorneys general seeking to close the case.

It has gained new impetus under Attorney General Luz Camargo, who took over in March and was chosen by Colombia's first leftist president, Gustavo Petro -- historically a foe of Uribe.

Uribe, still a prominent voice on Colombia's right, was known for being tough on the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and strongly opposed the historic 2016 peace accord that saw the Marxist rebels disarm.

He said last month the trial was motivated by "political persecution, personal animosity, political vengeance, without evidence".

The trial is set to resume on July 10.

Uribe is also being investigated in several other cases.

He testified before prosecutors in November last year in a preliminary probe into a paramilitary massacre in 1997 when he was governor of the Antioquia department.

A complaint has also been filed against him in Argentina, where universal jurisdiction allows for the prosecution of crimes committed anywhere in the world.

That complaint stems from Uribe's alleged involvement in the more than 6,000 executions and forced disappearances of civilians by the military during his government's crackdown on guerrillas between 2002 and 2008.

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