For the first time, Colombia's former President Álvaro Uribe is facing charges that could land him in jail.*
On July 24, the Supreme Court called the now Senator Uribe to appear before Colombia's Supreme Court regarding accusations of bribery and fraud. He has been accused of involvement with attempts to tamper with witnesses who say he created paramilitary groups with his brother, Santiago Uribe.
According to the high court, the former president may have used third parties to ask witnesses to withdraw their accusations against his family in exchange for legal favors. He has also been accused of suggesting that his main political adversary, Iván Cepeda -- who has promoted the investigations against Uribe for alleged participation in paramilitary activities -- be investigated for the same witness tampering charge.
After reviewing the case’s videos and telephone interceptions, the court determined that it was not Cepeda who manipulated witnesses, but the ex-president.
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On the same day Uribe was notified about his investigation, he announced via his Twitter account that he would be resigning from the Senate. He argued that he felt “morally impeded” from continuing at his post and that he wanted to ensure his “defense did not interfere with his work in the Senate.”
The former head of state also said that the case against him was a “set-up” by the current government and his enemies.
Uribe’s imminent resignation, which must go through a Senate plenary vote to take effect, coincides with his defense attorneys’ recusal of the Supreme Court judges, effectively freezing their case against him.
He would have to appear before the Court on September 3.
InSight Crime Analysis
Uribe’s threat to resign from his seat in the Senate is seen by many as a new strategy by the former president to avoid a potentially worse outcome like imprisonment.
It would seem the evidence the Supreme Court has on Uribe is enough to cause him significant damage. And with the possibility of an arrest warrant hanging over him, Uribe seems to prefer avoiding that risk and playing his wildcard: resigning.
Once he is out of the Senate and regains his civilian status, his case will move to the Attorney General’s Office, which will have to decide whether the evidence is enough to bring charges. This would draw out the investigation and give Uribe more room to maneuver out of a possible prison sentence.
Also worth noting is that current Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez has referred to the ex-president as a “patriot,” and they have attended the same public events.
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However, the Supreme Court will still have the last word. It must decide whether the crimes for which Uribe is being investigated are related to his position as a senator and whether he took advantage of his status as a public official. If so, his resignation would not change his investigation’s venue, which would be the worst-case scenario for the Uribe family.
As of now, the former president’s lawyers have filed a recusal against the Supreme Court judges, claiming that they do not have the authority to call for an investigation, and complaining that the court allegedly leaked information to the press and ignored their request for information on the case.
The recusal will freeze the investigation for one month while the Supreme Court analyzes the defense’s complaints. The extra time will give Uribe and his lawyers the opportunity to plan their next move, which may include reconsidering his resignation.
It is still not clear whether the former president has more cards in his hand that he could play to further delay the legal process, or whether he is taking desperate measures in the expediency of possible legal action.
The situation is ironic in that, in 2013, Álvaro Uribe sent Iván Cepeda to the Supreme Court for witness tampering, and now it is Uribe who is being investigated for the same crime.
*Following the publication of this story, Uribe issued a tweet saying the head of the Senate should "hold, but not consider, my letter of resignation."