Carlos Garcia Orjuela, the ex-leader of the Partido de la U, is accused of allying with paramilitary groups in the Tolima department in exchange for votes in the 2002 congressional elections. He is currently being held in La Picota prison, south of Bogota.
Orjuela’s defense argues that the former senator could not have associated with paramilitaries in Tolima at the time because he was attending Congress. The accusations against him are based on testimonies by two imprisoned paramilitaries, who say that they met with Orjuela twice on a Tolima farm in October 2001.
Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana is among the 20 witnesses called to testify in court.
As Orjuela has French citizenship, the French Embassy in Bogota is closely monitoring the trial. The French ambassador, Jean Michael Merland, observed the proceedings first-hand today, while French Senator Christophe Andre Frassa, a personal friend of Orjuela’s, visited Colombia in order to watch the beginning of the trial.
“France is closely watching this trial and we want it to proceed with absolute transparency,” said Merland.
To date, 62 members of Congress have been accused of paramilitary ties in the “parapolitics” scandal that rocked President Uribe’s administration in 2007. Thirty-three have either been arrested or are currently in jail awaiting trial, including the president’s cousin Mario Uribe Escobar, another former president of Congress.