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Cablegate: Supreme Court Rules Ex-Members of Congress Remain

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3653/01 2761730
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 021730Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4979
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8417
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1094
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6605
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 2423
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 7286
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMISTB/CDR USSOUTHCOM SPO MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 003653

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM KJUS CO
SUBJECT: SUPREME COURT RULES EX-MEMBERS OF CONGRESS REMAIN
UNDER FISCALIA JURISDICTION

REF: BOGOTA 3359

Classified By: Political Counselor John Creamer
Reasons 1.4 (b and d)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) Colombia's Supreme Court opted on September 18 not to
expand its powers to investigate members of Congress
suspected of paramiliatary ties to include ex-legislators.
Under current rules, the Court prosecutes and tries sitting
senators and representatives; the Prosecutor General's Office
(Fiscalia) prosecutes former members. Supreme Court
auxiliary magistrate Ivan Velasquez told us the Fiscalia is
less aggressive than the Court in investigating parapolitical
ties, but an examination of the numbers in parapolitical
cases does not support this view. Velasquez said the Court
expects to charge additional legislators in the near future,
including three leading legislators from Valle de Cauca. End
summary.

COURT BACKS AWAY FROM CONFLICT
------------------------------

2. (C) The Supreme Court opted on September 18 to retain the
current rules--which were set by the Court during the Samper
scandal in the 1990s--for investigating senators and members
of Congress in the parapolitical cases. Presently, the Court
investigates, prosecutes, and judges sitting members; former
members (including those who resign in response to
prosecution) enter the ordinary justice system and are
investigated and prosecuted by the Fiscalia. Lower courts
determine guilt or innocence. The media had speculated that
the Court would reclaim the right to investigate and
adjudicate all parapolitical cases involving
legislators--including those already in the hands of the
Fiscalia--due to concerns that defendants who resigned their
seats fared better under the Fiscalia. Auxiliary Supreme
Court Magistrate Ivan Velasquez, the lead investigator in the
parapolitical scandal, told us on September 22 that the
Fiscalia was more susceptible to political pressure and
corruption than the Supreme Court.

3. (C) House President German Varon and Liberal Guillermo
Rivera told us the 5-4 decision represented a conscious move
by some members of the Court to step back from the recent
conflict between the Court and Uribe. Representative Carlos
Piedrahidita told us Supreme Court Magistrate Leonidas
Bustos--the swing vote in the decision--changed his vote to
maintain the status quo. Bustos reportedly wanted to avoid
feeding the public perception of a "declaration of war" by
the Court against the executive.

FISCALIA NO EASIER THAN COURT ON PARAPOLITICIANS
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (C) A close examination of the 70 cases of
paramilitary-linked politicians shows that defendants who
resign their seats do not receive softer treatment from the
Fiscalia than from the Supreme Court. Of the six former
congressmen or senators who have been sentenced in
parapolitical cases so far, two pleaded guilty under Fiscalia
prosecution, one was convicted under Fiscalia prosecution,
and three were convicted by the Supreme Court. Of the six
former or current congressional representatives who have been
acquitted, three were cleared under the ordinary justice
system and three under the Supreme Court. All twelve
represented parties in the president's Congressional
coalition, suggesting that partisan politics did not
influence the Fiscalia's prosecution of cases.

5. (U) Similarly, both the Fiscalia and the Court have made
ample use of their legal authority to imprison suspects
despite criticisms of the Court by Uribe allies for using
this harsh--if legal--practice. As of late September, the
Fiscalia has ordered fifteen into preventive detention; the
Court has has ordered ten. In addition, only four of the
thirty-three members of Congress under investigation but not
in jail have resigned their seats--indicating that many
defendants do not perceive any benefit from having their
cases prosecuted by the Fiscalia instead of the Court.

COURT VIEWS
-----------

6. (C) Velasquez defended the Court against charges of
political bias, rejecting claims that it conducts secret
investigations and does not allow suspects the opportunity to
mount a defense. He agreed that the Court's heavy reliance
on witness testimony provided by former paramilitary members
is a weakness, but said threats and violence against
potential sources of physical evidence have made this
inevitable. The Court recognizes that its credibility is at
stake, and is careful to develop multiple witnesses before
bringing charges. In response to executive claims that the
Court is moving slowly on the FARC political cases, Velasquez
noted that the FARC cases only started in June. By contrast
the court began the parapolitical investigations in early
2005, and brought the first cases to trial in late 2006.

CONFLICTS AND INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE
-------------------------------------

8. (C) The Court's decision avoided another flare-up between
Uribe and the Court, but the conflict is likely to continue.
Velasquez said the parapolitical scandal will expand further,
noting that the Court expects to bring charges against
powerful Valle de Cauca and Convergencia Ciudadana Senator
Juan Carlos Martinez in the near future. Martinez is close
to Valle Governor Juan Carlos Abadia. Extradited
paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso also testified on
September 25 before Colombia's Supreme Court (via video link
from the United States) about para ties to politicians in
Cordoba and Sucre.Varon and Rivera agreed the continuing
investigations will provoke more Uribe-Court clashes. Rivera
said GOC officials wrongly believe the Supreme Court is
biased against them (reftel). They added that Uribe will
respond aggressively if Court investigations ensnare more
politicians linked to the executive.
BROWNFIELD

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