CPJ rejects Uribe’s call for probe of Coronell

New York, August 22, 2008Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez called for a criminal investigation of Daniel Coronell on Thursday, alleging that the journalist broke the law by not immediately disclosing a videotaped interview that allegedly links the administration to a bribery scandal. The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Colombian authorities today to dismiss Uribe’s request.

On Thursday, Uribe appeared before a congressional committee charged with investigating allegations that high-ranking officials offered bribes to former congresswoman Yidis Medina in exchange for her vote in favor of a constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe to seek re-election in 2006, press reports said.

During the closed-door hearing, Uribe called on the committee to forward the matter to the attorney general for criminal investigation. He claimed Coronell, news director of TV network Canal Uno and columnist for the weekly magazine Semana, broke the law by failing to inform the public of a crime in a timely manner, according to press reports and CPJ interviews.

Coronell’s 2004 videotaped interview with Medina, in which she recounted the alleged bribe, aired on April 20 of this year and helped fuel congressional and judicial investigations of the administration. Coronell said Medina had asked him not to reveal the information until this year, Colombian press reports said. Medina herself is under home detention after being convicted of bribe-taking this year.

“We reject President Uribe’s request to investigate Daniel Coronell,” said CPJ’s Americas Senior Program Coordinator, Carlos Lauría. “We believe President Uribe is motivated by Daniel Coronell’s critical coverage of the administration. We call on the attorney general to dismiss the request.” 

Sen. Luis Carlos Avellaneda filed a formal criminal complaint against the president after Medina told the Colombian Supreme Court that Uribe was aware of the bribe offer, which included political jobs for family and friends, local press reports said. Prosecutors are investigating several other officials as well, Reuters reported.

In October 2007, Uribe called Coronell a coward, a liar, a swine, and a professional slanderer during a radio show on La FM. The comments followed a column by Coronell in Semana that described allegations by the lover of the late Pablo Escobar that Uribe had links to the drug lord. Hours after Uribe’s accusations were aired, Coronell received an e-mail death threat.

Coronell spent two years in exile after receiving two funeral wreaths in 2005 bearing cards that invited him to his burial. He also received e-mail messages threatening the life of his young daughter, which were sent from the computer of former Congressman Carlos Náder Simmonds, a close friend of Uribe. Náder later admitted sending one e-mail but claimed it was misinterpreted. The former congressman was not charged.