Cousin of Colombian President Uribe arrested

Other News Materials 23 April 2008 20:50 (UTC +04:00)

Colombian police arrested early Wednesday a cousin of President Alvaro Uribe, after Costa Rica refused to grant him political asylum, reported the dpa.

Former senator Mario Uribe's arrest was ordered Tuesday in the framework of an investigation over alleged ties with extreme-right paramilitaries.

However, instead of turning himself to the police he entered the Costa Rican Embassy in Bogota to seek asylum.

He was arrested when he left the diplomatic mission hours later. On Wednesday morning, he was taken to La Picota jail in the Colombian capital, where other suspects in the case known in the South American country as "parapolitics" - over the ties between politicians and the paramilitaries - were already being held.

President Uribe, in turn, stressed Wednesday that his cousin did not inform him of his intention to avoid the Colombian Justice system by seeking asylum. He told Colombian radio station Caracol that he is personally hurt by the situation his cousin is in.

President Uribe said he received a phonecall from Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who wanted to inform him of his government's decision on the case.

"I answered his call out of respect," said Uribe.

He added, however, that he told Arias that the Colombian government was not intervening in the case and that it was therefore not necessary for Costa Rican authorities to provide an explanation for their decision.

"We have to let justice carry out its investigations, let justice say if he is guilty or not," the president said of his cousin.

Mario Uribe, the leader of the party Democratic Colombia which backs the president, was linked to the case by the Supreme Court in October. He gave up his seat in the Senate so that the investigation could be handed to the public prosecutor's office.

The case involves 64 legislators elected in 2006. Most of them belong to the centre-right coalition that backs President Uribe, and 32 of them have been arrested.

More than 20 have resigned their seats in Congress.

The case against the president's cousin is based mostly on the testimony of a former paramilitary who entered a witness protection programme and is now living in Canada. The witness claims Uribe's cousin seized land in the northern Colombian province of Sucre, with the support of the paramilitaries.

Mario Uribe is also said to have had commercial ties with former paramilitary boss Juan Carlos Sierra, currently charged with drug trafficking.

Over 31,000 members of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC) demobilized from 2006.