Twin decisions from Colombian courts deal blows to Petro's government

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Supreme Court has ordered the country's interior minister to testify in a corruption probe and the Constitutional Court struck down the creation of the equality ministry in a double blow for the government of President Gustavo Petro.

The courts' decisions - released late on Wednesday - topped a torrid 24 hours for Petro, Colombia's first leftist leader, after two magistrates from the National Electoral Council called for an investigation into the financing of his 2022 campaign.

The Supreme Court called on Interior Minister Luis Fernando Velasco to testify in a probe into suspicious purchases of water tankers by the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD).

The vehicles, purchased for 46.8 billion pesos ($12 million), were supposedly bought to supply remote areas of Colombia's La Guajira province with water.

Three other current and former officials were also ordered to testify, including Sandra Ortiz, a close Petro ally who resigned as presidential adviser for regions amid the scandal.

"The investigation begins with the hypothesis of the crimes of bribery and possible illicit enrichment," the Supreme Court said in a statement.

Olmedo Lopez, the UNGRD's former director, and former deputy director Sneyder Pinilla, who are accused of having ties to the purchases, this week said they were willing to testify in exchange for immunity and protection.

According to Pinilla, Senate President Ivan Name and Chamber of Representatives President Andres Calle received huge sums of money to help push the president's social and economic reforms through Congress.

Both Name and Calle deny the accusations, and will be investigated by the Supreme Court.

While the Constitutional Court struck down a law creating the ministry of equality - led by Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez - it deferred the decision for two years, allowing the ministry to function until 2026.

The ministry is charged with fighting poverty in the South American country.

According to the court, the law approving the creation of the ministry did not include a proper analysis of the fiscal impact it would have.

A spokesperson for the vice president declined to comment on the ruling until it is issued officially.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Matthew Lewis)