BOGOTA (Reuters) – Former President Alvaro Uribe testified to Colombia’s supreme court on Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether he participated in witness tampering and bribery.
The private hearing was the first time a former president has been called to testify before the court and marked the latest installment in a long-running feud between right-winger Uribe and leftist senator Ivan Cepeda.
Uribe – a mentor of President Ivan Duque and a current senator – could serve time in prison if eventually convicted in the case. He has repeatedly declared his innocence and questioned the court’s independence.
“I think (the magistrate) will have perceived my respect for justice and my eagerness for the truth,” Uribe told reporters at the headquarters of his Democratic Center party.
Uribe’s appearance drew both protesters and supporters to the hearing in central Bogota. His testimony had been expected to stretch over several days, but local media reported he answered some 280 questions and would not be called on Wednesday.
In 2012, Uribe accused Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to right-wing paramilitary groups during jail visits to former fighters.
But in February 2018 the court, which investigates all criminal matters involving lawmakers, said Cepeda had collected information as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries.
Instead it was Uribe who was at fault, the court said.
The ex-president’s allies began new witness manipulation efforts even after that February decision, the court said in July 2018.
Uribe – famous for mounting an aggressive military offensive against Marxist guerrillas during his 2002 to 2010 tenure – and his family have long been accused of links to paramilitaries, but previous investigations have borne little fruit.
Various allies of the former president have been investigated or convicted for connections to paramilitaries.
Duque has repeatedly backed Uribe, and Uribe’s party has said the case is a set-up.
In a video posted on Tuesday afternoon the court’s president said only the evidence would influence judges, not support for Uribe from officials or protesters.
Right-wing paramilitary groups, formed in the 1980s to fight leftist rebels, were financed by drug traffickers, ranchers and landowners.
The groups ruled through terror in many areas, committing massacres, rape and mass displacements. Some fighters demobilized during Uribe’s tenure, but others founded crime gangs which continue to traffic drugs.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Giles Elgood and Sonya Hepinstall)