Former top aide to Colombia ex-president jailed

July 30, 2011 - 2:28 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A Colombian judge on Saturday ordered the arrest of former President Alvaro Uribe's chief of staff for alleged involvement in spying on judges, journalists and politicians by the domestic security agency.

Bernardo Moreno, 51, is the second top former aide to Uribe to be ordered arrested on criminal charges.

A former agricultural minister, Andres Felipe Arias, was jailed Tuesday for allegedly favoring political cronies with irrigation subsidies.

But the Moreno case is the first affecting Uribe's former inner sanctum. He was the president's chief of staff for both his terms in office from 2002-2010.

Judge Marlene Orjuela ordered Moreno jailed while he is tried for criminal conspiracy, abuse of public office and other charges.

Moreno faces at least three years in prison if convicted by the Supreme Court. He denies any wrongdoing.

Colombia's chief prosecutor, Viviana Morales, alleges Moreno took part in a key September 2007 meeting at an exclusive Bogota club in which he directly instructed officials of the DAS state security agency to spy on political foes and critics of Uribe.

In her arrest order, Orjuela noted that Moreno was accused of trying to persuade the attorney for a former DAS agent to not mention his involvement to prosecutors. Orjuela said the alleged action amounted to obstruction of justice.

Her ruling came a day after she heard arguments from Moreno's lawyers and attorneys for prominent Colombians, including judges, ex-senators and journalists, who were wiretapped or watched by the DAS.

Most of the testimony against Moreno comes from jailed former DAS detectives.

Uribe himself denies any knowledge of the illegal spying and had no immediate comment on Saturday. His opponents say they find it difficult to believe the right-wing former president could not have been aware.

The newsmagazine Semana broke the DAS spying story in February 2009 and more than 20 former agency officials have since been jailed on criminal charges for alleged roles. At least two have been convicted after pleading guilty to reduced charges.

The official who ran the agency during much of Uribe's second term, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, obtained political asylum in Panama in November with Uribe's help.

A Colombian judge issued an arrest warrant for her in May.

The DAS has along been a troubled agency mixed up in Colombia's dirty war targeting alleged sympathizers of leftist rebels.

It was infiltrated by cocaine-trafficking far-right militias during Uribe's tenure, and another former DAS director, Jorge Noguera, allegedly colluded with death squads, providing them with lists of labor leaders and leftist intellectuals to target for assassination. Noguera's case is being tried by the Supreme Court.

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Associated Press writer Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.