Colombia court must decide who can grant freedom to Uribe, judge says


By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Colombia's Supreme Court must establish whether a judge or the attorney general's office is responsible for deciding the future of a house arrest order against ex-president Alvaro Uribe, a magistrate said on Tuesday.

Uribe and several allies are being investigated for allegedly engaging in witness tampering in an attempt to discredit allegations the former president had ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

Uribe's lawyer had asked a judge to free him while the case continues. The judge said in a hearing she could not rule on the motion until the high court, which was in charge of the case until earlier this month, determines whether she or the attorney general's office had authority over the decision.

Uribe, a mentor to current President Ivan Duque, had been serving as a senator but resigned after the August house arrest order, while insisting on his innocence.

The resignation led the court, charged with investigating cases involving lawmakers, to transfer the case to the attorney general's office, which critics have alleged will be less rigorous than the court.

Tuesday's development is the latest twist in a years-long legal saga between the right-wing Uribe, who was president between 2002 and 2010, and leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda.

In 2012, Uribe accused Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to right-wing paramilitary groups.

But in 2018, the Supreme Court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries. Instead, it was Uribe and his allies who pressured witnesses, the court said.

Duque has called Uribe's house arrest unfair, comparing it to former rebel leaders who have been allowed to remain free during war crimes proceedings. They received special terms under a peace deal reviled by Uribe.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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