A Chilean Supreme Court judge ruled Saturday that a Communist Party member linked to leftist rebels should not be extradited to Colombia.
Justice Sergio Munoz’s ruling is preliminary, and the matter will ultimately be decided by the court’s criminal division.
Manuel Olate, 43, was arrested in October and had been under house arrest for the past month while his case was being heard.
The Colombian government accused Olate of being a financier for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, saying he travelled to that country several times and allegedly met with guerrilla leaders.
Among other evidence against Olate, Colombia submitted 16 videos purportedly showing Olate with FARC leaders — including the guerrillas’ “foreign minister,” Raul Reyes, who was killed by the Colombian military in March 2008 in a cross-border raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador.
Olate allegedly used the alias “Roque” in communications with the FARC, according to the extradition request filed by Colombia.
The defence accused the Colombian government of fabricating evidence to incriminate Olate. Lawyer Alex Caroca argued that Olate’s relationship with the FARC was one of solidarity, and he was not a member of the armed group.
In his ruling, Munoz said Colombia failed to conclusively prove its case.
“We always thought it would be like this,” Olate said as he left the court Saturday. “We were confident that it could not be any other way.”
Alluding to the Chilean government — which has expressed its support for the extradition request — Olate said there must be an explanation for why “they destroyed my reputation.”
Caroca called the extradition request a “poorly founded” measure that, “if approved, would have endangered freedom of expression in Chile.”
“It would have endangered everyone’s right to political expression as they see fit.”
Olate is one of two Chilean Communist Party members who appeared in photographs taken at Reyes’ camp in 2008, days before it was bombed. At the time, Olate and Valeska Lopez held a news conference in the capital, Santiago, to deny reports in Colombia that they were there for military training.
They said they went to the camp to interview a rebel commander who turned out to be Reyes, and explained that they were wearing fatigues only because their own clothes were wet and the rebels offered them dry outfits.
The Chilean Attorney General’s Office, which represented Colombia in the hearing, did not immediately comment on Saturday’s ruling.