Colombia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday sentenced two former ministers to six years and eight months in prison for bribing members of Congress to approve legislation that allowed the 2006 reelection of former President Alvaro Uribe.
According to the court ruling, former Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt and former Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio are guilty of having offered political favors and positions to House Representatives in exchange for the approval of the constitutional amendment.
Following the sentence, both former officials surrendered themselves to authorities and were incarcerated.
Uribe’s former chief of staff, Alberto Vasquez, was convicted for the same crime and sentenced to five years.
Former Congresswoman Yidis Medina (Conservative Party) had already been sentenced in 2008 for accepting the bribe she revealed in the media after the former ministers failed to deliver on promised notary offices.
A second former congressman, Teolindo Avendaño, was also convicted after he had confessed to having received $80,000 after failing to attend the vote. The lawmaker denied however that this money was a bribe.
The sentences were the latest in a scandal that began almost 11 years ago.
The House of Representatives voted in June 2004 over a constitutional amendment that would allow a president to run for a second consecutive turn.
The purpose was to allow the 2006 reelection bid of the then widely popular Uribe who subsequently won that election.
In spite of Medina accusing Uribe of personal involvement in the bribe, the former president was not a suspect in the case. In fact, Medina admitted to having tried to blackmail the former president into complying with the promises made during the bribe before going to the press.
Congress again approved a constitutional change in 2009 to allow the third election bid of Uribe, but this was sunk by the constitutional court who deemed the entire process unconstitutional after numerous accusations of fraud.
Congress is currently debating a “Balance of Powers” reform that seeks to revoke the presidential reelection possibility.
According to critics of the initial constitutional change and the current administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, the 2004 vote disrupted the balance of powers, giving presidents excessive power over other branches where they can propose officials.
The latest convictions are the last in a long list of former Uribe aides who have been sent to prison for a wide range of crimes including embezzlement, ties to paramilitary groups or illegally spying on Supreme Court magistrates, human rights groups and opposition politicians.