Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Former Colombian president Uribe addresses charges

AFP, BOGOTA

Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe defended himself on Thursday before lawmakers mulling a probe on whether he ordered Colombia’s intelligence service to spy on judges, opposition politicians and journalists.

Uribe, who described his voluntary presentation as an “open declaration” and did not testify under oath, told a congressional panel he felt unjustly accused in the press of illegal wiretapping and other abuses.

He vehemently denied threatening reporters and non-governmental organizations, and gave a detailed account of his administration’s support for Colombia’s judges, saying it was at odds with claims that he bullied the justices and wiretapped telephones.

Colombia’s intelligence service (DAS), which reports directly to the president, allegedly carried out the illegal spying under direct orders from Uribe and his then-chief of staff Bernardo Moreno.

A judge ordered Moreno -arrested late last month. Former DAS chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado fled to Panama last year ahead of an arrest warrant and is seeking asylum.

“My government publicly disagreed with some journalists, but never acted in any other way that was not giving them protection,” Uribe said. “Never, but never, had it crossed my mind to order the persecution of a journalist or an NGO.”

Uribe’s defense came less than 24 hours after Heriberto Escobar, resigned from a commission of 15 legislators charged with investigating the former president. He was the fourth member to resign.

In May, fellow legislator Camilo Abril resigned for “reasons of personal security.”

Uribe’s two terms as president ran from 2002 to August last year and ended with an 80 percent approval rating, but that has dropped to 60 percent in recent surveys. He currently holds no public office.

The committee must now decide whether to go ahead with a formal probe.

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