The Colombian Supreme Court of Justice, on the heels of a massive corruption scandal, assembled a “case” in the last few years against Álvaro Uribe without evidence, driven by political accusations that have repeatedly been thrown out of court. It relies entirely on testimonies obtained in prisons by an opposition politician – Senator Ivan Cepeda — who spent a decade attempting to induce accusations from convicted criminals against Uribe and his family with offers of cash, leniency and foreign asylum.
The Supreme Court has been rocked by a case-fixing and bribery scandal, and has been led by three chief justices in the last three years who have systematically suppressed evidence that incriminates Cepeda for his actions or supports Uribe’s innocence. They have repeatedly issued orders against Uribe without constitutional jurisdiction and used illegal wiretaps that still didn’t yield evidence against him. One of the three judges who had protected Cepeda, José Leonidas Bustos, fled Colombia in 2019 to evade arrest in the case-fixing scandal called the “Toga Cartel”.
The “Case” that Led to Uribe’s Arbitrary Arrest
The August 4 Supreme Court order to arrest Álvaro Uribe was the final step of a miscarriage of justice that began, incredibly, with a complaint by Uribe himself. Since 2009, Ivan Cepeda had been campaigning in prisons to induce accusations against Uribe and his family in the name of the congressional Committee on Human Rights, without that committee’s authorization.
In 2012, Uribe filed a complaint with the Supreme Court of Justice over Cepeda’s abuse of public office and defamatory harassment, adding evidence in 2013 that Cepeda had used offers of foreign asylum and cash to obtain false testimony. Uribe’s complaint was assigned to Judge José Luis Barceló, who in 2011 had joined now-fugitive Judge José Leonidas Bustos in suppressing evidence of Cepeda’s direct links to the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Instead of investigating Cepeda’s years of illegal acts for political ends, Barceló suppressed all the evidence in Uribe’s complaint – which was substantial and included clear evidence of Cepeda passing his own funds to his star witness through an allied political organization.
On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, Barceló closed the case against Cepeda without due evidentiary investigation and secretly opened one against Uribe himself, alleging that Uribe, not Cepeda, had bribed and tampered with witnesses, despite having no evidence. From the beginning, the case showed classic signs of bias. Barceló violated due process repeatedly and held onto the case when he did not sit on the Supreme Court panel with due jurisdiction. It was a legal and constitutional aberration from the start.
Then, Barceló illegally tapped Uribe’s phone in a manner that grossly violated international standards of justice. The judge issued a warrant in an unrelated case against a different individual, but Uribe’s number was “accidentally” listed as belonging to that individual. Over 20,000 phone conversations on Uribe’s phone were recorded under this falsified order, none of which included incriminating evidence. It was later proven the wiretap couldn’t have been “accidental” since neither Uribe’s number nor anything resembling it ever turned up in any part of that case file. Uribe only became aware of the existence of the case when the Supreme Court began leaking selective materials to the Colombian media. When Uribe publicly filed two successive petitions in 2018 to be duly informed of a case against him, the Court refused.
Uribe was finally called to testify in the case in late 2019, and he staunchly defended his innocence before a court that had systematically violated his rights. On the basis of testimony from prisoners induced by Cepeda, inferences – not incriminating evidence – from illegal wiretaps, and total suppression of evidence that both Cepeda and the Court had acted illegally, Álvaro Uribe was arrested on August 4, 2020.