Colombia’s Supreme Court called on Thursday for an investigation of former President Alvaro Uribe for what it charged was his role organizing a domestic spying ring that illegally intercepted the communications of his opponents.
The high court’s order came as magistrates sentenced two former Uribe aides to long prison terms for their roles in spying on journalists, politicians and even Supreme Court justices between 2007 and 2009.
Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency, was sentenced to 14 years in prison while former Uribe chief of staff Bernardo Moreno was given eight years.
The high court said both officials acted with the consent of Uribe, who at the time was struggling to shake off a scandal stemming from support given to his administration by right-wing paramilitary groups. Justices said they would send copies of their findings to a congressional committee responsible for investigating former presidents so it could open an investigation.
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The court also asked prosecutors to open investigations against five other Uribe aides not previously linked to the case.
Uribe, now a senator, denies any knowledge of the spying ring and said he was saddened by the conviction of honorable officials whose only crime was defending Colombia from attacks by those he called leftist “terrorists.”
Hurtado and Moreno join a list of a half dozen top Uribe aides who have either been convicted or are under investigation for corruption and ethical breaches. Earlier in April, the former interior and social protection ministers were sentenced to more than six years in prison for bribing lawmakers to support Uribe’s 2006 re-election.
All the former aides claim their innocence and say they are victims of political persecution by President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe in 2010.
While the judicial noose has slowly been tightening on Uribe, he is not in under immediate threat of being reprimanded.
Colombia’s congress has been sitting on dozens of accusations against the former president for years, and with Santos’ efforts to reach a peace deal with leftist rebels running into trouble, support for the hawkish Uribe has been soaring.