Lawyers for the former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have argued that comments made by the U.S. government over three weeks ago with regard to the request for his testimony in the case against U.S. coal company Drummond ensures his immunity.
On March 31, the U.S. State Department, through the issuance of a Statement of Interest (SOI), urged the federal judge handling the case against Drummond in Birmingham, Alabama, to move cautiously and explore every other legal avenue for obtaining testimony before demanding Uribe undergo questioning.
This, say Uribe’s lawyers, “solves” any doubts over the status of Uribe’s immunity from being forced to testify, despite the U.S. government stopping short of explicitly saying he has it, reported El Tiempo Thursday.
The group argued furthermore that the court must prove that any possible illegal acts carried out by Uribe while president were not committed under the umbrella of “official duties,” a guise that helps instill the premise of immunity. So far, they say, the court has been unable to prove this, thus putting significant flaws in their request.
The team of lawyers, led by former White House counsel Gregory Craig, added that the State Department’s request to the judge extends to Uribe’s functions as a government official prior to his presidency from 2002 when he served as a governor and senator.
In an indirect response to Uribe’s lawyers, the Plaintiffs stated their recognition of the SOI as being a suggestion that Uribe be granted limited immunity for official acts, adding that this is why they are only seeking to depose Uribe on the grounds of illegal actions that do not fall under the title of official acts.
However, the Plaintiffs argued that the U.S. request to “exhaust” all other legal avenues before bringing Uribe to testify has no legal authority, citing past cases in the U.S. where officials – among them former President Ronald Reagan – had to attend depositions. Furthermore, the U.S. statement in no way challenges the “relevance or necessity of Mr. Uribe’s testimony,” and makes erroneous factual assumptions that the Plaintiffs have not already sought to obtain information through other legal avenues. Thus, it appears the underlying premise for the U.S. seeking to shield Uribe from being called to testify is tenuous.
The suit against Drummond coal company was filed by victims of paramilitary violence who claim that the company contracted the now demobilized paramilitary group the AUC as a security force between 1999 and 2005. In this time period, 116 civilians were killed by the group in the region where the coal company operates.
Uribe was first ordered to testify in the case in November last year when he was subpoenaed while serving as a guest lecturer at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
The attorney representing the victim’s families, Terry Collingsworth, claims that the former president “knows the levels of cooperation between the armed forces and the AUC, specifically in regions like Cesar where Drummond was active,” making his testimony a required component of the case, regardless of the political position he once held. As Mr Collingsworth remarked in correspondence with Colombia Reports, “Uribe is not above the law.”
The subpoena was instantly rejected by both Drummond and Uribe himself who failed to show on the date that he was asked to give testimony. In addition, a little over a week after the order was issued against Uribe, the Colombian ambassador to Washington, Gabriel Silva, formally requested the U.S. government to grant Uribe immunity on the grounds that he had served as a head of state, an exceptional request given that this type of immunity is usually reserved for sitting heads of state.