April 29, 2008 / 11:25 PM / 11 years ago

Colombian opposition calls for Uribe bribery probe

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should be investigated for bribery, an opposition party said on Tuesday, as a former Congress member testified that the government offered her illegal favors in exchange for backing Uribe’s re-election.

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe speaks at The World Economic Forum on Latin America in Cancun April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Yidis Medina says she switched her vote to support the bill that allowed Uribe to run for and win a second term in 2006 after administration officials offered to let her appoint members of three local commissions in her home province.

Medina, a Conservative party member who was once part of Uribe’s coalition, turned herself in over the weekend after the attorney general ordered her arrest. She is giving testimony this week before the Supreme Court.

The scandal widened on Tuesday when Sen. Luis Avellaneda of the opposition Polo Democratico, or Democratic Pole party, filed papers asking Congress to include Uribe in the probe.

“President Uribe directly benefited when Yidis Medina changed her vote. She said that she met with Uribe about the matter, so he should be part of the investigation,” according to Avellaneda’s petition.

Uribe, a Wall Street favorite and the White House’s staunchest ally in South America, won re-election by a landslide after Congress passed a constitutional amendment clearing the way for him to seek a second consecutive term.

“The crime of bribery, by definition, involves two parties,” Medina’s lawyer Ramon Ballesteros told reporters.

“The idea is that the truth be known and that she be held accountable along with anyone else implicated,” Ballesteros said. “She very much regrets her behavior when she changed her position on the re-election measure.”

Medina says the government never delivered the favors it promised, prompting her to make the scandal public.

The investigation comes on top of a scandal linking some of Uribe’s closest political allies to far-right death squads and could further complicate passage of a U.S. free trade deal blocked by U.S. Democrats concerned about Colombia’s record on human rights and corruption.

More than 60 legislators, most from Uribe’s coalition, have been caught up in the probe of paramilitary influence in Congress. But the conservative leader remains popular for cutting crime and sparking economic growth with his U.S.-backed crackdown on leftist insurgents.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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