Colombia’s ex-spy chief surrenders in Panama

Maria del Pilar Hurtado was wanted for role in illegal wiretapping ring that targeted journalists and politicians.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado
Hurtado turned herself over to authorities in Panama late on Friday [EPA]

The former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency has ended several years on the run and surrendered to face charges of spying on opponents of former President Alvaro Uribe.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado turned herself over to authorities in Panama late on Friday, to where she had fled in 2010 after being implicated in an illegal wiretapping ring that targeted journalists, politicians and activists.

Even Supreme Court justices who opposed the former conservative leader were subject to the phone hacking.

She was taken on a pre-dawn flight to Bogota, where a judge ordered her to be jailed at the chief prosecutor’s office while charges are considered, AP news agency reported.

Chief prosecutor Eduardo Montealegre said Hurtado was being processed for at least five offences that could lead to 15 to 20 years in prison for a conviction.

He said he would urge Hurtado to cooperate and reveal “who gave the order for the illegal wiretapping”.

The accusations against the spy chief threaten to further tarnish the legacy of Uribe, for years the United States’ staunchest ally in Latin America and credited with crushing leftist rebels once dominant across large swaths of the country.

Hurtado has never implicated the former president in any wrongdoing.

As head of the now-defunct DAS spy agency, she oversaw a scandal-ridden institution whose agents seemed unrestrained in their use of illegal wiretaps to monitor a range of opposition figures and writers.

Dozens of DAS officials, including one of Hurtado’s predecessors, have been convicted of illegal spying and providing assistance to right-wing paramilitary death squads.

‘Political torture’

When President Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010, he immediately disbanded the DAS and pursued charges against several of its former officials.

Hurtado was granted asylum in Panama in 2010. But the Central American country’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the decision giving her refuge was unconstitutional.

Her case before Colombia’s Supreme Court is among several investigations that Uribe says Santos has launched against some of his former aides.

While serving as Uribe’s defence minister, Santos oversaw the military offensive that was credited with bringing down one of the world’s highest murder and kidnapping rates.

But the two men are now rivals, with Uribe accusing Santos of jeopardising security gains in his bid to strike a peace deal with leftist rebels.

Uribe’s former finance chief, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, was compelled on Friday to testify before prosecutors about his relationship with a computer expert hired by his 2014 presidential campaign to allegedly hack into government email accounts to uncover information that could derail Santos’ peace talks.

Uribe took to Twitter on Saturday to denounce what he called the “political torture” of Hurtado.

To the media, [the] prosecutor has sentenced Maria del Pilar Hurtado to 20 years in prison. Are those the guarantees? Is that not pressure? Is that not persecution?

Source: News Agencies