Colombia’s right-wing ex-president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) may eventually be brought to trial for attempting to influence and manipulate witnesses, after a primary court rejected a request by the attorney general’s office to drop the investigation against him, a decision that brings back to the fore the long-standing – and extremely polarizing in the Latin American country – case.

The attorney general’s office had requested a hearing in March 2021 to consider whether to drop the investigation after its officials felt the former president’s actions could not be considered criminal.

Mr. Uribe and several of his allies were under investigation for trying to influence and manipulate witnesses to cast doubt on accusations that he had ties to far-right paramilitary organizations. The former head of state, who belongs to the so-called hard right, declared his innocence from the start.

Supporters of Mr. Uribe characterize the investigation as political persecution, while his critics say that he deserved this fate, especially during the period he was placed under house arrest.

“Contrary to what the attorney general’s office said, there is preliminary evidence, evidence and information that indicates, and it is likely to be true, that the crime of bribery was committed” and that Mr. Uribe “participated” in it, Judge Laura Barrera said.

In her decision, she clarified that she will not take over the case herself.

The attorney general can appeal.

Critics of former President Uribe, who have long alleged collusion with far-right paramilitaries, had argued that the prosecution would be far less thorough in investigating the case than the Supreme Court, which had been tasked with handling it. Firstly.

Neither Mr. Uribe nor his lawyer would comment on yesterday’s verdict.

If the former head of state is actually tried and found guilty, he faces up to 12 years in prison.

In August 2020, the former president, who retains enormous influence on the Colombian right, resigned from his seat in the Senate after the Supreme Court ordered him to be placed under house arrest.

His resignation resulted in the investigation of the case being transferred to the general prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Uribe’s house arrest lasted only two months after a judge lifted the order.

The case dates back to 2012, when Mr. Uribe accused left-wing senator Ivan Cepeda of conspiring to link him to far-right paramilitaries.

But in 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Cepeda was collecting evidence as part of his work and never paid or pressured former paramilitaries. On the contrary, the top Colombian justice institution pointed out, it was the former president and his associates who tried to pressure and manipulate witnesses.

When the attorney general’s office announced that it would request that the case be dropped, Mr. Sepeda spoke of a “disgrace to justice.”

Alvaro Uribe ordered a series of large-scale operations against leftist rebel organizations during his tenure. He won more votes than any other Senate candidate in the 2018 general election, when Ivan Duque’s dolphin won the presidency.

Colombia’s far-right paramilitary organizations grew spectacularly in the 1980s, heavily funded by landowners and others, amid civil war. These organizations, which were accused of numerous human rights violations – thousands of murders, “disappearances”, rapes, torture – were disbanded and disarmed under an agreement with Mr. Uribe’s government. However, many of their former members later formed drug-trafficking gangs such as the Clan del Golfo.