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Cablegate: Uribe-Supreme Court Feud Spawns Fears Of

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id: 173270
date: 10/9/2008 20:07
refid: 08BOGOTA3718
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 08BOGOTA1722
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INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8430
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RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 7320
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C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 003718

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM KJUS CO
SUBJECT: URIBE-SUPREME COURT FEUD SPAWNS FEARS OF
POLITICIZED JUDICIARY

REF: BOGOTA 1722

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

SUMMARY
-------
1. (U) The conflict between President Uribe and the Supreme
Court spilled into the judiciary after the Superior Judicial
Council (CSJ)--one of Colombia's four top courts--ordered the
Supreme Court to delete all references to Social Protection
Minister Diego Palacio from its ruling accepting the guilty
plea of former Congresswoman Yidis Medina. The Court
refused, arguing its rulings are not subject to modification.
Colombia's Constitutional Court may now weigh in on the
issue. Constitutional Court magistrate Manuel Cepeda told us
Uribe's allies packed the CSJ with party loyalists to use it
to head off the Supreme Court's parapolitical investigations.
The judicial turf wars and charges of politicization are
unlikely to end anytime soon, especially given the polarized
political climate generated by the parapolitical
investigations and a possible third term for President Uribe.
End Summary.

TWO HIGH COURTS DISPUTE FACTS, JURISDICTION
-------------------------------------------
2. (U) Colombia's Superior Judicial Council on October 1
ruled that the Supreme Court should strike all references to
Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio from the guilty plea
of former Congresswoman Yidis Medina. Medina pled guilty to
bribery in June, alleging Palacio and other officials in 2004
had arranged for plum jobs for her supporters in exchange for
her vote to change the Constitution to allow Uribe's 2006
re-election (reftel).

3. (U) Using a constitutional mechanism known as a "tutela"
(guardian plea) Palacio protested the inclusion of his name
in the conviction, contending it violated his right to a
presumption of innocence. The Prosecutor General's Office
(Fiscalia) is investigating Palacio and former Justice and
Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt. The Council--one of
Colombia's four high courts along with the Supreme Court,
Constitutional Court, and State Council--ruled that the
Supreme Court's wording took Palacio's involvement as a
proven fact, not an unproven allegation. The Council noted
this could prejudice Palacio's right to due process and a
fair trial, though the body also stressed its ruling had no
bearing on the Fiscalia's ongoing investigation.

4. (U) The Supreme Court responded that its rulings were
"unchangeable," the Council's ruling "foolish," and suggested
the Council was trying to distort the Court's motivations. A
Supreme Court statement noting that it had not implied
Palacio's guilt and "categorically" rejected efforts to
interfere with its investigations. Further muddying the
waters, Inspector General (Procurador) Edgardo Maya on
October 2 asked the Constitutional Court to annul Medina's
conviction on the grounds that bribery requires at least two
parties. The absence of a conviction against someone for
bribing Medina implied her innocence.

AND A THIRD HIGH COURT MIGHT FAIL TO RESOLVE
--------------------------------------------
5. (C) The "train wreck" between competing high courts will
likely move to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional
Court has the final word on constitutional matters, but has
been involved in its own jurisdictional battles with the
Supreme Court. Constitutional Court Magistrate Manuel Cepeda
told us he was unsure if/when his body would rule on the
matter, as six of its nine members are due to be replaced by
March 1, 2009. Still, he said President Uribe and his
Congressional allies, under pressure due to the parapolitical
investigations, packed the Superior Council with party
loyalists rather than judicial experts. He voiced concern
that the same would happen with the Constitutional Court.
President Uribe, the Supreme Court, and the CSJ will each
name two candidates to fill the six vacancies that must be
filled by March 1, 20009.

6. (C) Cepeda said the Supreme Court recently altered its
position on hearing tutelas in an effort to block the CSJ
from receiving more tutelas challenging Supreme Court
rulings. Still, it is unclear if the Council will accept the
Supreme Court ruling. Council Magistrate Angelino Lizcano--a
staunch Uribe ally and former Secretary General of the House
of Representatives--told us the Council acted in response to
"questionable and political" Supreme Court rulings. Lizcano
noted that numerous media reports had detailed suspect ties
between Supreme Court magistrates and known narco influences.
The problem, Lizcano added, is that individual cases have
become hostage to the Uribe-Court and intra-Court
battles--with all sides accusing the other of "politicizing"
the cases and rulings.

7. (C) The battles among the various courts could affect a
possible third term for President Uribe, since a third term
referendum to amend the constitution (now in Congress) must
be approved by the Constitutional Court. In 2005, the
Constitutional Court upheld the constitutionality of the
amendment allowing a second Uribe term, but it said an
amendment to permit a third term would violate the
Constitution's essence and would be unconstitutional.
Constitutional Court Magistrate and former Uribe legal
advisor Mauricio Gonzalez told us the current Court would
likely not approve a third term, but he expects the new Court
members to be more friendly to Uribe. He predicted that the
judicial turf battles and charges of politicization are not
likely to end anytime soon.

BROWNFIELD

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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