Sources: Semana, Colombia Reports / The Dawn News / April 16, 2018
A key witness in a case against former president Álvaro Uribe was murdered last Saturday in Antioquia, Colombia.
The series of events began with a plenary session of the Senate, where left-wing Senator Iván Cepeda demanded former president Álvaro Uribe to explain the nature of his ties with some of the paramilitary organizations that terrorize the country.
Uribe denied any relation with the paramilitaries and sued Cepeda for fabricating testimonies.
The court not only found Cepeda to be innocent, but later pressed charges against Uribe for doing exactly what he accused the senator of: arranging false testimonies in court to protect himself, as evidenced by audio recordings of his telephone calls.
In 2015, Carlos Enrique Arieza denounced Cepeda for trying to pressure him into testifying against Álvaro Uribe and his brother, Santiago Uribe.
However, the letter he submitted as evidence was found by the court to be false, and Arieza admitted he had never been contacted by Cepeda to incur in false testimony.
Arieza had testified in another case a year before, where he linked governor Ramos Botero with paramilitary activities. Later, he was found to have incurred in false testimony, and he confessed he had been offered money to do so and apologized to Botero and his family. The Supreme Court questioned whether he really was guilty.
Last Saturday, Arieza was shot to death by men riding a motorcycle in the Bello municipality in Antioquia. The court had ordered an increase in security for Areiza after he had reported death threats over his role in the witness tampering scandal.
A second witness was moved to a safe house earlier this month after allegedly surviving two assassination attempts.
The assassinated witness told prosecutors in 2016 and earlier this year that he had been tricked into falsely accusing Cepeda in 2015.
Areiza’s signature appeared on a written complaint in which Cepeda was accused of paying him $37,500 to make bogus claims against Uribe, his brother and several key Uribe allies also accused of having sponsored terrorist groups.
Mentioned in the fake letter
- Alvaro Uribe: Colombia’s former president is accused of having formed the Bloque Metro paramilitary group in 1995 and 1996. This group left thousands of victims in the Antioquia province where Uribe is from.
- Santiago Uribe: Uribe’s brother is accused of having been involved in the creation of two paramilitary groups, the 12 Apostles in the early 1990s and Bloque Metro.
- José Obdulio Gaviria: The cousin of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar is a senator for Uribe’s hard-right Democratic Center party. His family has allegedly been close to Escobar’s former enforcer army, the Oficina de Envigado, for decades.
- Luis Alfredo Ramos: The former governor of Antioquia and current debate chief of presidential candidate Ivan Duque has been under investigation for years over his alleged ties to paramilitary umbrella organization AUC.
When Areiza was called to court to confirm the claim, he told the court that he did not write the letter and denied that Cepeda had tried to bribe him.
Instead, the demobilized paramilitary fighter said that he had contacted the office of Senator Jose Obdulio Gaviria in 2015 after receiving death threats over his testimony that would confirm ties between former Antioquia governor Luis Alfredo Ramos and the AUC.
Jaime Restrepo, a.k.a. “El Patriota”
A few days later, said Areiza, he received a visit from far-right political activist Jaime Restrepo, who made him promise that he would cease to cooperate with justice in the Ramos case.
Restrepo allegedly also made the former paramilitary fighter sign a number of blank papers.
The false witness case
Using among other things Areiza’s written statement, Uribe sued Cepeda on witness tampering claims.
The court rejected this lawsuit in February and ordered an investigation for witness tampering against Uribe after finding that several witnesses in criminal cases against the former president had been threatened.
The court also ordered an in-depth investigation of the evidence gathered by Cepeda that would prove Uribe’s alleged involvement in the formation of a far-right Bloque Metro paramilitary group.
Uribe, who is currently in the senate, rose to political prominence in the early 1980s as a close friend of Fabio Ochoa, the patriarch of the Ochoa clan that helped form the Medellin Cartel.
The former president has been accused of criminal activity with the cartel and supporting the paramilitary groups that were formed by Escobar associated in the 1990s ever since before he became president in 2002.