Colombia's chief prosecutor unseated by court

February 29, 2012 - 1:15 AM

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A Colombian high court unseated the country's chief prosecutor, Viviane Morales, on Tuesday on the grounds she was improperly elected.

Morales, who held the second most powerful post in Colombia after the president, had been elected by the Supreme Court in December 2010 from among candidates proposed by President Juan Manuel Santos.

But a different court, the Council of State, ruled 15-9 on Tuesday that Morales didn't get the required number of votes.

There was no immediate comment from Santos or Morales on the decision. She will be replaced by her deputy while a new chief prosecutor is chosen.

A former acting chief prosecutor, Guillermo Mendoza, told The Associated Press that it was entirely possible that Santos could re-nominate Morales.

The Council of State's chief judge, Gustavo Gomez, told reporters that Morales did not receive the required two-thirds vote in the Supreme Court in 2010. She won 14 votes in a court that normally has 23 members but at the time numbered only 18. The Council of State judges decided she fell two votes short.

Morales has been under intense scrutiny since her marriage late last year to a former congressman, Carlos Alonso Lucio.

An M-19 rebel in his youth, Lucio has in recent years served as an adviser to far-right paramilitaries and had contacts with extradited drug lords. In the 1996, he was stripped of his U.S. visa for his ties to drug lords.

Morales has, however, also upset Colombia's right. She has led the prosecution of a number of former close associates of former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe on corruption and criminal conspiracy charges.

Morales has not commented publicly about her relationship with Lucio other than to confirm her marriage to him. They had originally married in 2000 but later separated.

Lucio is not known to currently face any criminal investigations, though he has acknowledged meeting with drug-trafficking paramilitary warlords to help them negotiate an eventual peace pact with Uribe's 2002-10 government.

Lucio had in the 1990s been at the center of another controversy as an ardent defender of then-President Ernesto Samper during an unsuccessful impeachment attempt over the acceptance by Samper's campaign of contributions from the Cali cocaine cartel.

Morales, a former senator, was also a close associate of Samper.

Under her direction, former close Uribe associates put in jail facing trial include Uribe's former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, and a former agriculture minister, Andres Felipe Arias.

Moreno is charged with criminal conspiracy for allegedly ordering the now-dismantled DAS domestic intelligence agency to spy on political opponents of Uribe. Arias is accused of corruption in channeling agricultural subsidies intended to well-heeled political allies of Uribe.

Morales also obtained an arrest warrant this month for Uribe's former peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, for allegedly orchestrating the phony surrender of a column of leftist rebels.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.