Colombia's supreme court on Feb. 27 convicted two close aides of former president Alvaro Uribe for illegal eavesdropping on the communications of the conservative leader's top opponents. Maria del Pilar Hurtado, former head of the now-disbanded DAS intelligence agency, and Bernardo Moreno, Uribe's chief of staff, were both found guilty on several charges, including conspiracy, and each face more than 10 years in prison. The convictions were widely anticipated since a number of former DAS agents accused them of ordering wiretaps of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and even members of the supreme court who had been critical of Uribe. President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the DAS shut down shortly after taking office.
Hurtado last month turned herself over to authorities in Panama, where she fled seeking asylum in 2010, and was sent home amid promises she would receive leniency if she told prosecutors who ordered the wiretaps. So far she has not implicated Uribe, and the former president has denied knowing about the spying. He has defended the two aides, saying they are victims of a campaign of political persecution mounted by his successor Santos. All nine supreme court justices, none of whom were among those targeted by the spying, voted in favor of the convictions. Moreno will remain free on bail awaiting sentencing while Hurtado will reamain behind bars.
The judicial noose has been slowly tightening around Uribe’s inner circle since the staunch US ally stepped down in 2010, handing the presidency to his former defense minister Santos. The two angrily split over Santos' decision to pursue a deal with leftist rebels to end a half-century of war. In addition to Hurtado and Moreno, Uribe's former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias has been convicted of corruption. A number of other former Uribe cabinet officials, including Óscar Zuluaga, his hand-picked presidential candidate in last year's elections, are facing investigations. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 28)