Colombia court rejects shelving of case against former President Uribe

BOGOTA (Reuters) -The Superior Court of Bogota on Friday rejected a prosecutor’s request to shelve a witness tampering and fraud case against former President Alvaro Uribe, extending a long-running legal battle.

Uribe and several allies have been investigated over allegations of witness tampering carried out in an attempt to discredit accusations he had ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

The former president has always maintained his innocence.

“The request for preclusion of the penal action against Alvaro Uribe Velez is rejected,” said the decision from the tribunal’s three magistrates, which was read out during a hearing.

The decision was unanimous, they said.

It will be up to the attorney general’s office to determine if it continues the case, the ruling said, though the judges highlighted inconsistencies in witness testimony and other instances where they said prosecutors should have continued investigations.

The court’s decision marks a new milestone in the deeply polarized case – which Uribe’s supporters allege is persecution and his detractors celebrate as a deserved downfall – and affirms a judge’s May decision to dismiss a request from prosecutors to shelve the case.

“Clearly I read this with enormous concern. I have ardently defended my reputation but I don’t know anything about bribing witnesses or misleading the court,” Uribe told journalists on Thursday night after local media reported the case would continue, citing sources.

The attorney general’s office asked in March 2021 for a hearing on potentially curtailing the investigation, after it found Uribe’s conduct did not constitute a crime.

Uribe, who could serve 12 years in prison if convicted, resigned his senate seat in 2020 after the Supreme Court ordered house arrest.

His resignation triggered the case’s transfer to the attorney general’s office and a judge lifted his house arrest after two months.

The case stems from a 2012 allegation by Uribe, who accused leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to paramilitaries.

But in 2018 the Supreme Court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries. Instead the court said it was Uribe and his allies who pressured witnesses.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin, Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Nick Macfie and Diane Craft)