BOGOTA: Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe denied yesterday having any connection to a paramilitary massacre that left as many as 15 peasants dead more than a quarter century ago.
The former president (2002-2010) was linked two weeks ago by former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso to the killings in the town of El Aro in 1997, when Uribe was governor of the department of Antioquia.
“I never met with the paramilitaries,” Uribe told journalists after giving sworn testimony to prosecutors.
“The only one who I knew was Mancuso. I never conversed with him. It never went beyond a ‘hello’.”
Uribe, who led an implacable military campaign against leftist insurgents and drug cartels during his presidency, has become entangled in the criminal investigation.
Two weeks ago, Mancuso told a hearing of Colombia’s special jurisdiction for peace (JEP) that Uribe “always knew about the operation”.
His defence submitted to the prosecutor’s office a document that points out contradictions between Mancuso’s most recent version and his past testimony, as well as several letters where Uribe asked to investigate paramilitaries during his term as governor.
The evidence “demonstrates the total clarity and transparency of the former president’s actions”, his lawyer, Juan Felipe Amaya, told AFP.
Uribe is also facing legal proceedings for allegedly pressuring a witness who linked him to paramilitaries to change his story.
Mancuso, who has been imprisoned in the US since 2008 on drug trafficking charges, testified virtually before the JEP, a unique court born from a 2016 peace accord with FARC rebels.
In his hearing, Mancuso also accused the former president of participating in a meeting in 1998 to plan the murder of community leader Jesus Maria Valle.
The former paramilitary still has accounts pending before the Colombian justice system and the government has requested his extradition once he finishes serving his sentence in the US.
If he returns to Colombia, he could be released if he is deemed to have given truthful testimony.
Mancuso told the court that Uribe “always had knowledge of the operation” in El Aro and has insisted that his extradition to the US was ordered to keep him from revealing who sponsored the right-wing paramilitaries.
In turn, the conservative ex-president called these statements “infamous” and called Mancuso “a bandit”.
Uribe remains a prominent voice on Colombia’s right, which ceded power in elections last year to Gustavo Petro, the nation’s first leftist president.