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January 9, 2013 6:22 pm
Colombia’s government has reopened a criminal investigation in to Álvaro Uribe, the former conservative president, over his alleged involvement with paramilitary groups.
The attorney-general’s office relaunched a preliminary probe in to Mr Uribe’s connection to brutal paramilitaries while he was governor of the rich Antioquia province from 1995 to 1997.
“This is a very important step for Colombia’s justice,” Iván Cepeda, the leftwing lawmaker who first brought the case forward in 2011, told the Financial Times.
Mr Cepeda claims rightwing militias were created not only while Mr Uribe was governor, but also on his own ranch, and that the former president himself encouraged the formation of self-defence groups.
The case is based on testimonies from two paramilitaries already in prison, Pablo Hernán Sierra, also known as Alberto Guerrero, and Juan Guillermo Monsalve. Both accuse Mr Uribe of having links to the most powerful paramilitary group, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC – a bloody clan that performed several killings while he was a state governor and afterwards.
Mr Uribe responded on Twitter that the allegations were “criminal vengeance” coming from “imprisoned criminals”. His lawyers deny all the charges claiming they are “full of suppositions, imprecisions and lies”.
According to Mr Cepeda, 284 investigations have been initiated in Congress against Mr Uribe in recent years. But these have stalled in the congressional commission responsible for dealing with judicial investigations related to presidents. He expects Mr Uribe, now on the board of News Corp, will be at last summoned for questioning and that the case will go before the Supreme Court.
The rightwing militias were started in the 1980s by landowners and drug traffickers to fight back against kidnappings, killings and extortion by leftwing insurgents.
They soon gained power by spreading terror, becoming highly organised criminal factions run by regional warlords, whom prosecutors and human rights groups say killed several tens of thousands. During Mr Uribe’s presidency, more than 20,000 militants gave up their arms in return for reduced jail terms and to avoid extradition.
Mr Uribe, whose father was murdered by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, in 1983, is still considered one of the region’s most effective, albeit controversial, leaders.
When he first won the presidency in 2002, Colombia was the fiefdom of drugs lords, violent paramilitary and guerrilla groups. He left office with a 75 per cent approval rating and with Colombia on the path to being one of the region’s success stories.
A US-backed military offensive, started by him, has put the Farc rebels on the back foot, allowing the government to regain control of many areas and, according to many, paving the way for the current peace talks started by Juan Manuel Santos, his successor and former defence minister – a process Mr Uribe criticises.
But since the end of Mr Uribe’s presidency, several of his aides have been subject to judicial investigations for alleged drug or paramilitary links. In recent months former police general Mauricio Santoyo, Mr Uribe’s security chief, turned himself in to US authorities, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in jail for links with paramilitaries.
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