EL ESPECTADOR, August 4, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Investigation Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice has issued a warrant for the arrest of Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez because of alleged crimes of willful violation of legal procedures and bribery of a witness. It’s the first time in history that a warrant of this kind is issued for a former head of state.
As a result of an investigation for the crimes of willful violation of legal procedures and bribery of a witness, the Investigation Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice, in a unanimous decision, issued a warrant for the arrest of Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez. It’s the first time in the history of Colombia that the high court has ordered a measure of that kind against a former President of the Republic. Senator Uribe himself tweeted, lamenting the Court’s decision. This paper has learned that the Investigation Branch, after debating the draft decision by Justice César Augusto Reyes, telephoned the former President and, in the call, notified him that a warrant was being issued for his house arrest.
The case has to do with his alleged attempt to manipulate the testimony of Juan Guillermo Monsalve, a former paramilitary who has connected former President Uribe with the creation of the Metro Bloc of the Self-Defense Forces that operated in Antioquia. The former President and now Senator of the Democratic Center Party provided his testimony on October 8, 2019, before Justice César Augusto Reyes, in a proceeding that at the time paralyzed the activities at the Justice Ministry and put the politics of the country on the alert. Today’s decision will certainly have similar effects.
The full bench of the Investigation Branch (Justice Cristina Lombana, who was removed from the case, did not participate.) found it necessary to issue a warrant for arrest to guarantee Uribe’s appearance in the case. After a judge approves the arrest and specifies the location of his house arrest, there will be an evidentiary procedure lasting until the investigation is complete. Then the Investigation Branch will decide if the case is to be dismissed or if the former President is to be charged with the crimes.
According to a short press statement issued by the high court, this decision “was adopted based on a strict legal examination of the procedural situation, which could indicate possible risks of obstruction of justice, with respect to the future collection of evidence of allegedly criminal events that involve Senator Álvaro Uribe as well as his representative, Álvaro Hernán Prada Artunduaga. The wrongful acts took place after February 16, 2018, the date on which the Criminal Appeals Branch ordered validated copies against the person with parliamentary immunity, at the time a complaint that he filed was dismissed.”
According to the Court, the irregularities have to do with the people close to him having “probably undertaken actions to manipulate witnesses,” with the approval of the now-Senator. “After hearing his explanations, and after having examined multiple pieces of evidence, much of it requested by the defense, the restriction of Senator Uribe Vélez’ liberty is based on a large amount of material evidence collected and analyzed by the Special Investigation Branch,” the Court clarified.
That material, added the high tribunal, includes testimonial evidence, judicial inspections, filmed searches, telephone calls intercepted and recorded, “which appear to indicate his alleged participation as the mastermind of the crimes of bribing a witness in a criminal case and willful violation of legal procedures.
The origin of the case
In February of 2012, during a political debate about the genesis and development of paramilitaries in Antioquia, Senator Iván Cepeda detailed serious events that were related to the Guacharacas ranch, which belonged to the brothers Santiago and Álvaro Uribe Vélez. It’s located in the Nus region, between San Roque and Yolombó in northeast Antioquia.
In the debate, Senator Cepeda revealed that, according to the testimony of Juan Guillermo Monsalve, a former worker at the ranch, convicted of being a paramilitary, and another paramilitary known as Pablo Hernán Sierra, alias Alberto Guerrero, former commander of the Cacique Pipintá Bloc of the AUC, the ranch had been the headquarters of the Metro Bloc of the paramilitaries. “The founders and creators of what ended up being called the Metro Bloc are Mr. ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, his brother Santiago Uribe, Santiago Gallón, Luis Villegas, and Juan Guillermo Villegas.” That is what alias Alberto Guerrero revealedto Senator Cepeda in August of 2011. During the 2012 debate, he stated that as proof of his complaint. Álvaro Uribe denied the claims. He reiterated that he had stopped going to the ranch in 1983 and, in order to demonstrate his disagreement with Cepeda, on the same day as the debate, he went to the Supreme Court of Justice to file a complaint against the Senator from the Democratic Pole Party, alleging manipulation of the statements of the former paramilitaries, whose testimony Cepeda had divulged in the Congress.
In September 2014, when Uribe Vélez was already a Senator, Iván Cepeda promoted a new debate in the Congress about the paramilitaries in Antioquia, and he and the former President clashed again. Uribe filed a brief in the Supreme Court reminding them to keep in mind the interviews carried out by a private investigator of the former paramilitaries Ramiro de Jesús Henao, alias Simón, and Gabriel Muñoz Ramírez, alias Castañeda, who stated that Cepeda had made offers to them if they would testify against Uribe.
The Supreme Court of Justice took six years to make a decision, and on February 16, 2018, they dismissed the complaint against Cepeda and, conversely, ordered that the former President was the one who must be investigated for alleged witness tampering and bribery of witnesses. Six days later, in the midst of the national uproar about the decision, the high court received information from Iván Cepeda’s defense about alleged pressures on the former paramilitary Juan Guillermo Monsalve to change his testimony. That was the reason that the Supreme Court opened another investigation of Uribe Vélez and called him to testify, along with a representative of the Chamber from the Province of Huila, Álvaro Hernán Prada.
What is the Supreme Court investigating?
The high court is reviewing whether there was an attempt to use third parties to manipulate the testimony of Juan Guillermo Monsalve. For one thing, by an intermediary, Attorney Diego Cadena, who visited Monsalve in prison on February 22, 2018. He asked him to sign a document to be used by the former President’s defense. In exchange, the lawyer offered to help him with an action to review his trial for being a paramilitary. Attorney Diego Cadena assured him that all of this was his own idea, but the prosecutors believed otherwise, and for that reason, on last July 27, they charged him with a crime. Cadena also insisted that Monsalve, with his actions, was trying to get the Supreme Court to make a mistake.
“It was my initiative, mine, mine, mine, I tell you: ‘what looks workable to me is an appeal for review or to examine your case. That’s all I can see.’ He never filed an appeal, he never studied his case, he never read anything. He was simply left with a comment. Nothing happened,” insisted Cadena to W Radio on October 9, 2018. About that meeting in La Picota (Prison), which was recorded on a hidden clock that Monsalve had, Enrique Pardo Hasche was also there. He was a prison comrade of Monsalve’s, who asked Monsalve to “take Uribe’s side.”
Cadena played a key role in the investigation, because, according to the high court, he “had contacted members of paramilitary groups in different prisons—and outside of them–in exchange for legal favors and apparently for money also—in order to put together papers and videos favoring Senator Álvaro Uribe and his brother Santiago,” the latter in litigation about his alleged formation of paramilitary groups. According to the Supreme Court, Attorney Diego Cadena, with the full knowledge of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, visited Monsalve at least two more times to obtain his signature on a letter in which he apologizes to the former President.
Besides that, in the suit, the former paramilitaries Carlos Enrique Vélez, alias Victor, and Euridice Cortés, alias Diana, have affirmed that Attorney Diego Cadena offered them money to testify in favor of the Uribe Vélez brothers. Attorney Cadena’s actions earned him a legal proceeding and the Attorney General’s Office has charged him, along with his partner Juan José Salazar, with bribery in a criminal proceeding and willful violation of legal procedures. In the case of alias Victor, the prosecutors furnished evidence that Cadena offered 200 million pesos (about USD 53,000) of which he has received 48 million pesos (about USD 12,700) in cash, to state that it had nothing to do with humanitarian aid, as the lawyer had stated initially.
“There is no support in Cadena’s office that would demonstrate that those payments to Vélez were humanitarian aid, or travel expenses as part of a strategy by the attorney to obtain evidence in a legal manner (…)in the lawyers’ world, they have to deal with people of doubtful reputation and they can’t take this kind of shortcut (…) the prosecutors also pay expenses to witnesses, but with earmarked funds, and they make a record of it,” stated prosecutor Daniel Hernández during the charging hearing.
According to the prosecutors, the documents that alias Victor and Monsalve himself offered at the hearing after the visits were prepared by Cadena himself in advance and they just signed them. After learning about those events that Cadena was questioned about, even on the same day that he gave his testimony, former President Uribe dismissed his attorney.
“I found out in recent weeks, ten months after a statement by the witness Carlos Enrique Vélez, that he had given the two million pesos for humanitarian reasons. He came to my office and told me ‘Man, Dr. Diego, if you would have asked me, I would have told you no way. Absolutely no’.” Several months ago, Cadena relinquished the authority that Uribe had given him as his attorney.
The Supreme Court is also investigating alleged attempts by the former President to seek, by means of third parties, to have the former drug trafficker Juan Carlos Sierra, alias El Tuso, make a video in which he would discredit the testimony of the former Police official Juan Carlos Meneses, one of the principal witnesses in the case against Santiago Uribe for the alleged formation of paramilitary groups. Besides that, it’s investigating whether Diego Cadena may have tried, “following instructions” from the former President Uribe, to get former prosecutor Hilda Jeaneth Niño Farfán to commit to testifying in favor of Santiago Uribe in the case being tried against him, saying that the prosecutors had conspired to accuse the rancher.
In the case of Representative Álvaro Hernán Prada, the high court is investigating his alleged having tried to manipulate the testimony of Juan Guillermo Monsalve, using third parties, to get him to make a video in which he would retract what he had told investigators and accuse Cepeda instead. The things that Carlos López, alias Caliche, had done at Prada’s request, were something that the Democratic Center Congressman had categorically denied on multiple occasions.
Prado was summoned to the investigation for October 9, 2019, but he surrendered, after a postponement, on November 6, 2019. In that case, you recall, after the completion of the investigation, the high court had to consider some troubling situations; for example, the flyovers of drones over their location. Added to that, the discovery of a microphone in the office of Justice Reyes, who had also made complaints about a number of episodes that had affected his safety.