updated 9/25/2008 3:17:02 PM ET 2008-09-25T19:17:02

The brother of Colombia's powerful interior minister was arrested Thursday as a scandal over ties to outlawed paramilitary drug gangs spread among Colombia's ruling elite.

Guillermo Leon Valencia is being investigated for possible illegal enrichment and use of privileged information in contacts with the gang of a top paramilitary leader, according to prosecutors and his defense attorney.

Valencia is the brother of Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio, who is in charge of domestic political affairs and who was heading the president's office on Thursday since President Alvaro Uribe was travelling abroad.

Valencia joins a list including of scores of congressmen, a political party chief and even Uribe's second cousin who have been arrested on charges of benefiting from ties to the paramilitaries in various ways. The groups were organized to protect landowners from leftist guerrillas, but they branched out into drug trafficking, murder and extortion. The U.S. government considers them a terrorist organization.

Minister cites 'pain and brotherly solidarity'
The interior minister himself was not implicated. He appeared before reporters to read a statement expressing "a profound feeling of pain and brotherly solidarity" at the arrest. But he said he respected the court decision to issue the arrest warrant.

Valencia was fired in August as head of the country's second-most important regional prosecutor's office — that of Medellin.

The national magazine Cambio had published transcripts of intercepted telephone calls between Valencia and an alleged associate of Daniel Rendon Henao, alias "Don Mario", who officials say is the leading figure in Colombia's drug-trafficking right-wing paramilitary groups.

The transcripts showed the prosecutor discussing legal issues and even the names of people wanted by police. Valencia has said the transcripts were taken out of context.

Defense attorney Dario Cabrera told The Associated Press on Thursday that Valencia "has no ties with Don Mario" and he said there was nothing criminal about Valencia's conversation with a man official link to the paramilitary boss.

Cabrera said he was with Valencia at a Medellin hotel when police arrived to arrest him. "He was well treated," Cabrera said.

Pressure to resign
Opposition figures have called for Valencia Cossio to resign, but Uribe has declined to oust him, saying he cannot be blamed for actions of a relative.

Prosecutors last month freed former Senate chief Mario Uribe, who had been arrested four months earlier on charges of colluding with the death squads.

Uribe, a second cousin of the president, was the most prominent figure among at least 70 current and former congressmen who have been arrested or questioned over alleged ties to the gangs.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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