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Allies of former Colombian President Uribe convicted for spying ring

WASHINGTON - JUNE 30:  Colombian President Alvaro Uribe delivers a speech titled "U.S.-Colombian Relations: Moving Forward" at the Woodrow Wilson Center June 30, 2009 in Washington, DC.  Uribe met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday where the two leaders talked about free trade, economic stabilization, fighting illegal drug trafficking and other subjects.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Alvaro Uribe

WASHINGTON - JUNE 30: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe delivers a speech titled "U.S.-Colombian Relations: Moving Forward" at the Woodrow Wilson Center June 30, 2009 in Washington, DC. Uribe met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday where the two leaders talked about free trade, economic stabilization, fighting illegal drug trafficking and other subjects. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Alvaro Uribe  (2009 Getty Images)

Colombia's Supreme Court on Friday convicted two close aides of former President Alvaro Uribe for organizing a spying ring that illegally intercepted the communications of some of the conservative leader's top opponents.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former head of Colombia's intelligence agency, and Bernardo Moreno, Uribe's chief of staff, were both found guilty of several crimes including conspiracy. They each face more than 10 years in jail.

The judicial noose has been slowly tightening around Uribe's inner circle since the staunch U.S. ally stepped down in 2010, handing the presidency to his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos. The two angrily split over Santos' decision to aggressively pursue a deal with leftist rebels to end a half-century of war, a move that Uribe and his supporters say could end with guerrillas nearly crushed by his government gaining undeserved leverage over Colombia's future.

In addition to Hurtado and Moreno, Uribe's former agriculture minister has been convicted of corruption and a number of other former Cabinet officials, including his hand-picked presidential candidate in last year's elections, are also facing investigations.

Hurtado and Moreno's conviction had been widely expected after a number of agents of the now-defunct DAS spy agency accused them of ordering wiretaps of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and even members of the Supreme Court who had been critical of Uribe. Santos ordered the scandal-ridden agency shut down shortly after taking office.

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Hurtado last month turned herself over to authorities in Panama, where she fled seeking asylum in 2010, and was sent home amid promises she would receive leniency if she told prosecutors who ordered the wiretaps.

So far she hasn't implicated Uribe, and the former president has denied knowing about the spying. He has defended the two aides, saying they are victims of a campaign of political persecution mounted by his successor.

All nine Supreme Court justices, none of whom were among those targeted by the spying, voted in favor of the convictions.

Moreno will remain free on bail awaiting sentencing while Hurtado will stay in jail.

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