BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s Supreme Court placed former President Alvaro Uribe under house arrest in a unanimous decision on Tuesday while a fraud and witness tampering case continues.
Uribe, a mentor of President Ivan Duque who now serves as a senator, has repeatedly declared his innocence in the case and questioned the court’s independence.
The court reached the decision after concluding there was potential for obstruction of justice to take place, it said in a statement.
“Senator Uribe will serve out his confinement in his residence, from where he can continue to mount his defense,” the court said.
According to local media, Uribe is at his country house in Cordoba province.
“The privation of my liberty causes me profound sadness for my wife, for my family, and for Colombians who still believe that I have done something good for the country,” Uribe wrote on Twitter before the court published its decision.
The Supreme Court ruling is the first ever in Colombia ordering the detention of a former president.
Duque has repeatedly defended Uribe and said in a video statement on Tuesday he would always believe in the innocence of the former president.
The case stems from a long-running feud between the right-wing Uribe and leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda.
In 2012, Uribe accused Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to right-wing paramilitary groups.
But in 2018 the court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries.
Instead it was Uribe who was at fault, the court said, adding that his allies had undertaken new witness tampering efforts even after its original ruling.
Uribe and lawmaker Alvaro Hernan Prada face prison terms of up to 12 years. That would put Uribe in the ranks of other former Latin American presidents, including Brazil’s Lula da Silva and Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, who have served time in confinement.
“There is no one in Colombia who is above justice or the law, no matter how influential they are,” Cepeda said in a virtual news conference.
A celebration of the court’s decision is planned in Bogota on Tuesday evening, while Uribe supporters are set to gather in their cars to protest the ruling.
Uribe is best known for mounting an aggressive offensive against Marxist guerrillas during his 2002 to 2010 tenure. He and his family have long been accused of paramilitary links. His brother Santiago is facing a murder charge.
Uribe’s detention may weaken the cohesion of the Democratic Center in Congress as Duque ties to pass reforms meant to help manage the fallout of coronavirus.
Right-wing paramilitary groups, formed in the 1980s to fight leftist rebels, were financed by drug traffickers, ranchers and landowners. The groups ruled through terror, committing massacres, rape and mass displacements.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin and Carlos Vargas; Editing by Chris Reese, Tom Brown and Gerry Doyle)