Court record in Colombia reveals Uribe's mounting legal bind

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019 file photo, senator and former president Alvaro Uribe arrives to the Supreme Court for questioning in an investigation for witness tampering charges in Bogota, Colombia. Uribe will not be allowed to remain at liberty while the Supreme Court investigates the allegations against him, current President Ivan Duque said in a video address Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File)

BOGOTA – The frantic voice message to an inmate in Colombia’s notorious La Picota prison came days before powerful former President Álvaro Uribe was up against a court deadline to submit witness testimony in a potentially damaging case against him.

“There’s a big man who wants to talk,” Carlos Eduardo López, a tireless Uribe devotee, told the former paramilitary serving a four-decade sentence.

Juan Guillermo Monsalve asked for details.

In a series of WhatsApp audios, López explained that Uribe’s political allies wanted him to help their cause by submitting a video in which he backtracks from previous statements alleging the politician had ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

The Supreme Court had just opened an investigation into allegations that Uribe had engaged in witness tampering and his supporters were eager to get it closed. If Monsalve could testify that he'd been pressured by an opposition lawmaker into making false assertions against Uribe, he could help spare one of Colombia's most popular if polemical leaders a possibly ruinous legal headache.

The audios are among a trove of legally intercepted calls, covert recordings and witness testimony that make up the backbone of a monumental Supreme Court investigation into Uribe, whose house arrest order last week rocked the political establishment and divided the nation. The transcript is documented in the classified 1,554-page decision obtained by The Associated Press.

In the audios, López didn’t name Uribe, referring to him only as “the ex” and “the old man."

“He said: ‘Son, could you go in and ask him to send us a video?’” López said.