By Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA (Reuters) -A Colombian judge on Wednesday dismissed a request by the attorney general’s office to shelve a witness-tampering investigation against divisive former President Alvaro Uribe.
The decision by Judge Carmen Helena Ortiz revives a long-running and deeply polarising investigation, which saw the attorney general’s office ask last year for a hearing on curtailing the probe, after it found Uribe’s conduct did not constitute a crime.
“It is clear for the chambers that there exists a possible hypothesis about the material nature of the crime of bribery,” Ortiz said during the hearing. “The chambers rejects the petition for preclusion of the investigation for the crimes of penal bribery and procedural fraud.”
Conviction in the case could mean a prison term of up to 12 years for Uribe.
Uribe and several allies are being investigated over allegations of witness tampering carried out in an attempt to discredit accusations he had ties to right-wing paramilitaries. Uribe has always denied the allegations and maintained his innocence.
Uribe’s lawyer Jaime Granados did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision can be appealed, local media reported.
Uribe’s critics have repeatedly alleged the attorney general’s office would be less rigorous in its investigation than the Supreme Court, which was originally charged with the probe.
The still-influential Uribe was placed under house arrest by the court for two months in 2020. He resigned his senate seat after the order, which triggered the case’s transfer to the attorney general’s office.
The case stems from a 2012 allegation by Uribe, who accused leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to paramilitaries.
But in 2018 the Supreme Court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid them, and that instead it was Uribe and allies who pressured witnesses.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Kenneth Maxwell)