Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has been called for questioning by the country’s electoral authority CNE over illegal funding of his 2014 election campaign by Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht, local media reported Thursday.
The CNE summoned Santos to be questioned regarding $1 million that his 2014 campaign allegedly received from Odebrecht.
According to newspaper El Tiempo, this is the first time that a president has been summoned to give evidence in an electoral fraud investigation in Colombia.
Former Presidents Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) and Alvaro Uribe (2002-2002) were able to evade interrogations over alleged illegal funding by respectively the Cali Cartel in 1994 and the AUC paramilitary group in 2002.
The investigation was announced after Santos’ former campaign manager Roberto Prieto openly admitted to receiving money from Odebrecht and investing it in promotion material, but in the 2010 campaign.
Prieto has yet to admit to illegal funding during the 2014 campaign.
Judge Angela Hernandez, who is in charge of the investigation, has requested Santos’ presence for the hearing on May 8, CNE President Alexander Vega told newspaper El Espectador.
According to the country’s top electoral official, campaign managers and party representatives have also been summoned.
The investigation came at the request of the president himself, who denies having ordered the use of or known about the illegal financing admitted by his former campaign manager.
From 2001 to 2016, Odebrecht paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes in association with projects in 12 countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, according to the US Department of Justice.
The American authorities specified that between 2009 and 2014, the company allegedly spent more than $11 million in bribes in Colombia.
The corruption scandal has hit both the government and the conservative opposition, whose candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, was forced to suspend his 2018 presidential bid after accusations his 2014 campaign also received money from Odebrecht.
Santos has publicly apologized for the admitted entry of illegal funds into his campaign, but has denied knowing about the bribery practices.