Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Officer accused of death plot had worked for US

AP , BOGOTA

A retired army colonel who is accused of conspiring to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's most vocal critic worked for the US embassy two years ago.

Retired Colonel Julian Villate -- now employed by Alabama-based coal producer Drummond Co Inc -- was accused by Senator Gustavo Petro on Tuesday of trying to hire hit men to kill him.

US embassy spokesman Marshall Louis confirmed on Wednesday that Villate was employed by the diplomatic post between December 2004 and July 2005, when he resigned.

Louis said he was not allowed to reveal what Villate did for the embassy, or why he resigned.

"Senator Petro's accusations relate to events which occurred well after Villate's time at the embassy," Louis said.

Villate also was accused before his embassy job of spying on leaders of Cali's public employees union for an assassination plot.

That scandal was widely publicized at the time, and remains under criminal investigation.

Drummond responded late on Tuesday in a statement from its Colombia headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, calling the accusations "politically motivated."

Drummond confirmed Villate coordinates security at the Caribbean port from which it exports coal.

Drummond is being sued in an Alabama federal court by families of three slain union leaders who say the company orchestrated the killings.

They say their evidence will include testimony from a former official of Colombia's domestic intelligence agency who says he saw the president of Drummond's Colombia operations pay for the hits with US$200,000 in a suitcase.

Petro has taken the lead in unmasking ties between Uribe's supporters and illegal right-wing death squads.

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