By Juan Pablo Vásquez, EL PAÍS, Bogotá, May 24, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

A judge has decided that the ex-President of Colombia must go to trial, and has dismissed his attorney’s motion to dismiss the case.

The decision by Judge Sandra Heredía of Criminal Branch 44 in Bogotá will go down in history. It has been decades since a former President of Colombia has attended a criminal trial from the defense table; the most recent will be Álvaro Uribe Vélez. After a hearing that lasted two days—it began on May 17 and continued on this Friday—in which she heard the arguments of the prosecutors and of the defense, she held that there exists sufficient reason for the most popular and powerful politician in this country for the last two decades, who was able to reform the Constitution in his interest to permit him to serve eight years as President (2002-2010), must stand trial for the crimes of bribery, procedural fraud, and witness tampering. Although Jaime Granados, attorney defending the ex-President, asked the Judge to dismiss the case, which has lagged four years in ordinary jurisdiction, as Uribe renounced his senatorial privilege in 2020, the arguments made by Prosecutor Gilberto Villareal, the first of five prosecutors to decide to bring formal charges, prevailed. Although the trial could last for months, or even years, its commencement shows to what extent a leader’s luck can change.

The genesis of the case dates back to February of 2018, when the Supreme Court of Justice placed on file a criminal complaint that had been filed four years earlier by Uribe, who at that time was a member of Congress and leader of the Democratic Center Party. He filed the complaint against Iván Cepeda, a Senator of the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole Party. According to the ex-President, Cepeda had tried to manipulate witnesses to demonstrate Uribe’s supposed relationship with paramilitary groups. The Justices of the Court, after evaluating the evidence, concluded that there was no support for Uribe’s allegation, and that, on the contrary, there was reason to believe that the complainant was the one who had committed crimes. Using Attorney Diego Cadena, said the Justices, Uribe had offered “goodies” to ex-paramilitaries if they would accuse Cepeda of twisting their testimony. The case remained relatively quiet for a while.

In 2020, in the midst of the confinement because of the Coronavirus, and when Uribe’s pupil–Iván Duque—was the Head of State, the Supreme Court’s Instruction Branch ordered the then-Senator arrested to keep him from slowing down its investigation. While the ex-President was in custody a wave of reactions broke out in the country, especially because it had to do with the most charismatic figure in right wing politics. At the recommendation of his attorneys, Uribe resigned his Senate seat, thus losing his senatorial privilege, and the file was transferred to the prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office. The idea was to get preferential treatment, since that Office was headed by Francisco Barbosa, a close friend of Duque’s. The then-Attorney General assigned the case to a subordinate who went to court with a motion to dismiss, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to file any criminal charge against the ex-President. Motion denied. That attempt was repeated two more times until, in January, the case went back to prosecutor Gilberto Villareal. Barbosa’s term as Attorney General was near its end, and Villareal took the path of filing charges, which was approved last Friday by Judge Heredía.

The proceeding commenced on May 17. The main thing that was new was an addition to the criminal complaint. Besides charging the ex-President with bribery in a criminal proceeding and procedural fraud, Villareal added the crime of bribery. In his judgment there was sufficient evidence to believe that Attorney Diego Cadena, following Uribe’s orders, also offered to accuse the former Attorney Generals Eduardo Montealegre and Jorge Perdomo of trying to show a relationship between the ex-President’s brother Santiago and paramilitary groups. The incorporation of this third crime was used as an argument by Jaime Granados, Uribe’s defense counsel to request dismissal of the case, claiming a violation of due process. After ten hours of hearing, Judge Heredía ordered the rest of the hearing to be set over for a week.

The hearing continued on Friday, May 24. In the meantime, the ex-President had broken his truce with President Gustavo Petro, who had been his political nemesis for decades. Although the outcome of this collision remains to be seen, the outcome of the hearing was clear; it was not in favor of the leader of the Democratic Center Party. The judge rejected Granados’s motion to dismiss it in its entirety, which opens the door for the commencement of the trial. Nevertheless, the lawyer fired his last shot when he filed a petition for error (appeal) with the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá, the link in the hierarchy which is superior to the Judge, the one that could decide whether he has any recourse against the Judge’s denial of his motion to dismiss the case.

The Judge identified Montealegre, Perdomo, Iván Cepeda, and Deyanira Gómez, the wife of Juan Guillermo Monsalve, the star witness in the case, as victims. The defense also appealed that determination. “The charge against Sr. Álvaro Uribe is appropriately formulated, and right now his status is that of a defendant, so we have reached the stage of discovery of evidence,” stated Heredía. Now it’s up to the prosecutors to explain the evidence they propose to offer at trial. After years of uncertainty, the judicial process against Uribe is off to its formal start.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.