There is no evidence linking Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga to an illegal wiretapping operation run by a member of his campaign staff, Colombia’s prosecutor general said Wednesday.
In an interview with Blu Radio, the country’s prosecutor general Eduardo Montealegre stated that “there is no evidence that would allow us to establish a relationship between the illegal activities of Andres Sepulveda and the Zuluaga campaign.”
Sepulveda was arrested Tuesday after agents from the Prosecutor General’s technical investigation team (CTI) raided an apartment in northern Bogota, where they discoverd surveillance equipment used to intercept electronic communications.
The suspect was allegedly in possession of classified military intelligence including information about the government’s ongoing peace negotiations in Havana, and lists of demobilized guerrilla combatants.
Soon after his arrest, it was discovered that Sepulveda had recently been employed by the Zuluaga campaign to assist with “information security.”
Speaking with Blu Radio, the country’s prosecutor general described the situation as a “coincidence,” stating that “no one can say that there was a connection between the two events.”
Montealegre said that the hacker apparently broke the security of an electronic account of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and also tried to gain access to the emails of FARC chief negotiator “Ivan Marquez,” and the account of leftist politician Piedad Cordoba.
Because of this, Montealegre said, his office “requested that the suspected be charged with the crime of espionage because confidential emails were found, which had they been made public, would have threatened to ruin the peace talks.”
Though Sepulveda was motivated primarily by idelogical reasons, according to authorities, there is also evidence that the he was involved in a, “black market of information.”
Sepulveda allegedly received a $50,000 payment recently in exchange for information about the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC.
Authorities are currently trying to determine who was behind these payments.
Accusations against Zuluaga
Sepulveda’s ties to the Zuluaga campaign have caused a public outcry in Colombia, particularly among opposition politicians.
Senator Juan Manuel Galan, whose Liberal Party also supports Santos, said the apparent links between the illegal wiretapping operations and the Zuluaga campaign were “extremely serious.”
“They have always sought to sabotage the peace process,” said Galan, adding that “if Zuluaga had service contracts with this ‘hacker’ it means this man was in the campaign of the Uribista campaign and the natural consumer of this illegally obtained information would be Zuluaga himself and ex-President Uribe.”
Following a flow of revelations in media over ties between the arrested spy and the Zuluaga campaign, the presidential candidate was forced to send out a press release in which it confirmed that Sepulveda and his wife, actress Lina Luna, had recently been working for the campaign.
The presidential candidate said that in February, Luna “offered to put together a team which would support the campaign’s social network and information security, led by her husband Andres Sepulveda, and his brother Louis Carlos Sepulveda, with support from Jorge Ardila, her husband’s uncle.”
Zuluaga disassociated his campaign from any illegal activity and stated that “if someone has committed a crime they must be punished and any potential illegal actions must not go unpunished.”
Conservatives speak in Zuluaga’s defense
Conservative Party presidential candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez, ideologically aligned with the Democratic Center candidate, was one of the few politicians who spoke in defense of Zuluaga following the revelation of the apparent links between the Bogota spying activities and Zuluaga’s campaign team.
Ramirez noted the convenient timing of the arrest for incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos, one day after his top political strategist, spin doctor J.J. Rendon, was forced to resign.
Rendon had come under media scrutiny after revelations that extradited drug lord “Comba” of the Rastrojos drug trafficking organization had accused the political strategist of receiving $12 million in return for seeking a pact with the Santos administration to deconstruct the country’s drug trade.
“Every time there is a scandal that affects the government, there’s a smoke screen. This could be another smoke screen,” Ramirez was quoted as saying by newspaper El Espectador.
Local media reported Wednesday that Sepulveda has not accepted responsibility for the charges against him, which include unlawful violation of communications, use of malicious software, computer data interception and eavesdropping.