Ex-Colombian President Uribe to testify in fraud case

Alvaro Uribe will appear before a judge in closed session in a landmark case that could lead to formal criminal charges.

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    Bogota, Colombia - Alvaro Uribe is expected to make history on Tuesday by becoming the first former Colombian president to testify before a court on allegations that could lead to criminal charges.

    The former right-wing president, who still holds significant support within the Andean nation, will defend himself in the Supreme Court against allegations he bribed witnesses to recant claims he formed a paramilitary group in the 1990s. 

    If the court decides to indict Uribe, it could lead to a trial. It would also mean he could be the first Colombian president to be imprisoned if convicted.

    The inquiry hearing is closed to the public and very little is known about how the proceedings will unfold. It is expected to begin at 8am local time (13:00GMT) with witness testimonies. There will be at least 100 questions for Uribe to answer.

    The legal saga began when Uribe reported left-wing political leader and Senator Ivan Cepeda to the Supreme Court, accusing him of looking for ex-paramilitaries in prisons to use as false witnesses to testify against him, specifically on allegations he was responsible for the creation of the urban leg of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the biggest right-wing paramilitary group that operated during Colombia's armed conflict.

    Cepeda made the first revelations in 2012, and in September 2014, he held a debate on Uribe in Congress, in which he accused the former president of having links with paramilitary groups and drug traffickers. 

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    Uribe, leader and senator of the Democratic Center party, sued Cepeda over the allegations, but in a twist of events, the judge not only dismissed the case against Cepeda, but also decided to open an investigation into Uribe for alleged manipulation of witnesses against the left-wing senator - the same crime Uribe himself had accused Cepeda of committing.

    "This is significant because it is the first time a former president appears before a court at such a stage. It is unprecedented in Colombian history that former heads of state have to respond to criminal allegations against them in a court of law," said Sergio Guzman, political analyst and director of Colombia Risk Analysis.

    Guzman said because the court proceedings would take place in a closed session, it was unlikely a decision would be reached on Tuesday.

    Late on Monday, Uribe, who is from the same party of current President Ivan Duque, claimed he was being treated unfairly by the court.

    "I never thought that the defence of honour and my love for Colombia - squarely and with respect for citizens, in accordance with the constitution - would create these legal difficulties that I take on in a patriotic spirit and with the solidarity and encouragement of thousands of Colombians to whom I thank from the soul," the current congressman, who served as president from 2002 until 2010, told reporters. 

    Yann Basset, a professor of political science at Rosario University in Bogota, said Uribe had lost a lot of support over the past year in the polls.

    "He will surely try to recover some popularity by presenting himself as the victim of a plot - but I don't think it will be successful," Basset told Al Jazeera.

    Over the weekend and on Monday, Uribe supporters, known as Uribistas, organised marches and used social media to circulate support for the former president, with #ALaCallePorUribe (take to the streets for Uribe) on Twitter.

    Alvaro Uribe
    A supporter dressed as former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe goes on stage during a demonstration in support of the former president in Medellin, Colombia [David Estrada/Reuters]

    Support on social media has been promoted by Uribe's closest political allies, including Senator Paloma Valencia.

    "This is further politicising the judicial system in Colombia, not least because Uribe stands as a former president, but also the Uribe fanaticism of many of his followers take this as an affront of him and his legacy, and not necessarily that a person has to respond to his or her actions against the allegations in a court of law," Guzman said. "So this case and these allegations are going to give much more wind to the idea the judicial system is politicised in Colombia."

    An Uribista march is expected to take place on Tuesday in Bogota's National Park, just as the trial begins. Uribe's opponent Ivan Cepeda told local media yesterday the marches in support of the former president were a "wrongful pressure'' on the court. 

    For security concerns, the Supreme Court announced on Monday a location change of the hearing to its main headquarters in Bogota's city centre. It had previously been scheduled to take place in the north of the city.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News