Santos calls for full investigation as Colombia peace talks hacker scandal explodes

(Photo: Semana)

Presidential elections ended months ago in Colombia, but the peace talks hacking scandal that first exploded during the campaign in May has only just begun to ripple through Colombian politics.

After months on the political backburner, the scandal has heated up once again with the release Sunday of an exclusive interview with Andres Sepulveda, the alleged hacker accused of spying on ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebel group, Colombia’s largest.

In the interview, published in the weekly Semana magazine, Sepulveda claimed to have worked with active members of the Colombian military to gain access to priviledged information and communications, at the behest of various campaign officials and political allies of presidential runnerup Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, currently the director of the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico) party, the largest opposition bloc in Congress.

Speaking on the latest revelations, President Santos said Sepulveda’s statements gave him “the shivers” and called for a thorough investigation into the “criminal ring” outlined in the allegations.

“As president of the republic and chief of state, what I want is to get to the bottom of this situation, because these accusations, these allegations, are incredibly serious,” he said. “In a country of laws, in a democracy like ours, this is very dangerous.”

“For the good of our democracy, for the good of our rule of law,” the president said he will be pressuring all relevant officials to ensure a full investigation into the Sepulveda’s claims.

Political warfare

According to Sepulveda, who had worked for Santos’ 2010 campaign before being hired by the Zuluaga camp in January, ostensibly as a “social media contractor,” his primary mission was always to sabotage the peace talks, which Zuluaga has staunchly opposed, along with Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe, the founder of the Democratic Center party and one of the major political figures implicated in the wiretapping scandal.

Toward that aim, Sepulveda claims to have bought information from the military’s “Andromeda” intelligence program, a CIA-funded covert wiretapping operation exposed earlier this year and also accused of spying on the peace talks.

“In a country of laws, in a democracy like ours, this is very dangerous.”

While his focus was on damaging President Santos’ image in the runnup to May’s presidential elections, Sepulveda claims he was also instructed to discredit political figures the Democratic Center deemed enemies, in what Sepulveda himself referred to as a political “ditry war.”

Among those allegedly targeted were Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre, who is currently leading a criminal investigation into the scandal; Green Party (Partido Verde) presidential candidate Enrique Peñalosa; and opposition Congressman Ivan Cepeda, who is preparing to lead a Senate debate on former President Uribe’s alleged ties to paramilitarism and narcotrafficking.

Sepulveda also indicated that the Inspector General’s Office, arranged for him to spread malicious propaganda about Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, a longtime Uribe opponent who was temporarily removed from office by right-wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez.

The accused lash out

Sepulveda’s comments have been met with a flood of loud backlash in the political sphere from the Democratic Center party, and Alvaro Uribe in particular.

In an interview Monday with Colombia’s right-wing La Hora Radio station, Uribe went straight to the attack, calling attention to Santos’ own campaign scandal and accusing the president of planting Sepulveda in the Zuluaga team.

“The hacker served to penetrate the campaign of Doctor Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the name of the campaign of Juan Manuel Santos, in the name of President Santos,” he said.

Uribe attributed the scandal’s resurgence to the need to distract from “the humiliation” the Santos administration has inflicted on the “Army of democracy” by asking high-level military officials to sit and negotiate with FARC “terrorists” and from the “growing wave of insecurity” in Colombia supposedly produced by the peace talks.

Santos, he said, also has a vested interest in drawing attention away from the drug money allegedly received by former campaign director J.J. Rendon, who previously ran Uribe’s presidential campaigns and who was accused in the buildup to this years elections of having accepted $12 million to lobby President Santos on behalf of narcotrafficking interests.

Since the accusations became public — shortly before the initial wiretapping revelations — there have been no updates of any investigation into the alleged bribery.

Zuluaga himself also spoke out against the Sepulveda interview, saying in a statement released Monday, “It is absolutely false that our campaign has received information illegaly from intelligence or other origen.”

The former presidential candidate pointed to recent statements from the prosecutor general as evidence of “the infiltration” of his campaign.

Legal pressure?

Within hours of the interview’s release, the Prosecutor General’s Office published a response denying the prosecutor general’s alleged role in the scandal and implying that Sepulveda has been manipulated by the Prosecutor General’s Office for political reasons.

“The National Prosecutor General’s Office and Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordoñez vehemently and forcefully reject these repeated declarations from Mr. Sepulveda, and this afternoon the inspector general has asked the prosecutor general to investigate what penal and disciplinary implications said declarations could carry,” reads the staement.

“The hacker served to penetrate the campaign of Doctor Oscar Ivan Zuluaga”

According to the Inspector General’s Office, Sepulveda’s brother has testified that the alleged hacker is “receiving pressure” from “high officials” of the Prosecutor General’s Office to speak out against “certain individuals,” a claim that has also been issued publicly by Sepulveda’s wife. 

The administrative oversight body claims to have also received testimony from Sepulveda himself confirming his brother and wife’s claims. Sepulveda’s newest statements, according to the Inspector General’s Office, came “in exchange for numerous economic and judicial benefits for him and his family.”

In the immediate aftermath of the initial revelations, Uribe and others claimed that Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre, among those allegedly targeted by Sepulveda, was acting as a political weapon of President Santos. And now that the scandal has once again taken center stage, the Democratic Center party is once again attempting to paint itself as the victim.

Even prior to elections, Montealegre had drawn fire from Uribe loyalists for ongoing criminal investigations into a number of former Uribe aids and ministers, including two high-ranking Uribe officials currently eluding Colombian justice. One of the fugitives, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, operated the now defunct DAS while the intelligence agency was illegally spying on Supreme Court justices, journalists, human rights workers, and opposition politicians.



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