Could an accused president be jailed?

Colombia's ex-president Uribe doesn't want to go to jail

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The lawyers of the Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe, who has been accused of bribery of witnesses, have a new strategy to save their client from prison: Since he has resigned as a senator, the highest court is no longer responsible for the case, they argue.

There are precedents for this: In 2017, MP Aída Merlano attacked three flight attendants who they no longer wanted to let on board a flight that had already been processed. The case had nothing to do with her political activities, so after her senatorial immunity was extinguished, she was brought to a regular court.

Bribery of witnesses allegations

The Uribe case, on the other hand, is about bribery of witnesses: the ex-head of state (2002-2010) is accused of paying former paramilitaries not to testify against him. If the case goes back to the public prosecutor's office, all appeal options are open to him, the hearing could drag on for years.

Uribe has been under house arrest on his 1,500-hectare Finca El Ubérrimo since the beginning of August. He is the first Colombian ex-president against whom this measure has been imposed. US Vice President Mike Pence criticized the order and called for the bearer of the US President's Medal of Freedom to be released immediately.

Another judge wants to hear Uribe

Even if the request of Uribe's lawyers is fulfilled and the process is delayed, their client is in danger: A report published over the weekend in the Colombian media about the investigations into three massacres in his home province of Antioquia includes the request, the ex-president and several Summon ex-paramilitaries as witnesses by the end of September at the latest.

The 71-page document, which is also available to the AP news agency, lists dozens of civilians killed. At the top of the list is human rights activist Jesús María Valle Jaramillo, who was killed with two headshots in his office in Medellin in 1998 after accusing the Colombian military of supporting far-right death squads.

Several ex-paramilitaries have testified that Uribe, who was governor of Antioquia in the 1990s, was involved in founding the "Bloque Metro" unit of the paramilitary "Autodefensas unidas de Colombia" (AUC) and in organizing one of his country estates made available as headquarters. Uribe denies these allegations.

Extradition undesirable

Judge César Reyes, the author of the indictment, also wants to oblige the Colombian media to publish the transcriptions and original recordings of several interviews with paramilitaries and to speak to former AUC commander Salvatore "el Mono" Mancuso. It is uncertain whether he will have the opportunity to do so: Uribe had the convicted drug smuggler extradited to the USA in 2008, and after serving his sentence there, he is now to be deported to Italy, where he is facing another trial for cocaine smuggling.

There, the Italian-Colombian dual citizen would be safe from access by the Colombian judiciary because there is no extradition agreement between the two countries.

Formal error in the extradition request

Colombia's authorities have failed to arrange extradition from the United States since Mancuso's release from prison in March. Two applications to return him to his homeland were rejected because they did not comply with US law, and the Colombians themselves withdrew a third because of formal errors.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, America's head of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, accuses the authorities of sloppiness: "A simple web search would have been enough to find the errors in the application," he said and threw Colombia's President Iván Duque, the political foster child Uribes, pretend not to make serious efforts to extradite Mancuso. He said on Twitter that the fourth extradition request will certainly lead to success. (Bert Eder, 8/24/2020)