July 24, 2018 / 11:11 PM / a month ago

Colombian ex-president Uribe resigns from Senate amid criminal inquiry

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe resigned his Senate seat on Tuesday after the Supreme Court called on him to testify in an investigation into whether he participated in witness tampering and bribery.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe reacts after right wing candidate Ivan Duque won the presidential election, in Medellin, Colombia, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

Uribe, who was in office from 2002 to 2010 and mounted a military offensive against Marxist guerrillas, is a mentor of incoming President Ivan Duque, who won the June 17 election as the candidate for Uribe’s right-wing Democratic Center party.

Uribe is under investigation by the court over allegations he made false accusations and tampered with witnesses in a case he himself started by making similar accusations against leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda.

“The supreme court has called me to an inquiry,” Uribe said on Twitter. “I feel morally impeded from being a senator, I will send my resignation letter so that my defense does not interfere with the work of the Senate.”

Uribe’s lawyer did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In 2012, Uribe accused Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to falsely tie him to right-wing paramilitary groups during jail visits to former fighters.

But in February the Supreme Court, the body charged with investigating criminal matters involving lawmakers, said Cepeda had collected information from former paramilitaries in the course of his Senate work and that he had not paid or pressured them. Instead, the court said, it was Uribe who was at fault.

The activities continued even after the ruling, the court said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As a reaction to that ruling and apparently with his consent, persons allied to the ex-president Uribe began new acts of witness manipulation,” the statement said.

The court said Uribe will have sufficient time to prepare his defense in the criminal case, which could possibly lead to jail time if he is convicted.

Uribe has remained a polarizing kingmaker as his party has sought to stymie a peace accord with Marxist rebels.

“We express our solidarity with ex-President Uribe and his family at this time and are sure his honor and innocence will prevail,” Duque told reporters.

The Democratic Center party said in a statement it had proof the case was a set-up by Uribe’s political enemies and an effort to destabilize the new government.

Uribe and his family have long been accused of paramilitary involvement but previous investigations have borne little fruit.

Paramilitary groups in Colombia - originally funded by landowners to protect themselves from rebels - became violent organizations connected to drug trafficking and massacres.

The demobilization of a major group during Uribe’s term in office was widely criticized as ineffective.

The country’s 50-year conflict has killed more than 220,000 people.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta Additional reporting by Carlos Vargas; Editing by Helen Murphy, Grant McCool and Paul Tait

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