With less than a month to go before the polls, the scandal exploded on Thursday when Caracol Radio revealed they had more than 10 verified, sworn witness statements that Perez was supported by paramilitaries and criminals in his 2007 bid to be mayor of Colombia’s second largest city.
The Perez campaign was then further shaken when current Mayor Alonso Salazar spoke out to report “serious indications” that the criminal collaboration was continuing in Perez’s current battle against Anibal Gaviria.
The witness statements claim Perez paid renowned criminals and paramilitaries for their support, including Oscar Alberto Ortiz, a priest convicted of paramilitary ties and of being involved in murders.
Other statements claim Perez had close ties to senior AUC figures, including AUC spokesman Antonio Lopez, alias “Job” and demobilized leader “Don Berna.” According to the sources they provided financial backing and help campaigning.
Following the revelations, Salazar told Caracol Radio not only could he confirm the accusations against Perez but also that, “there are very serious indications of his cooperation with the paramilitaries in the current campaign to be mayor of the city.”
Alonso said they had received reports of Perez working with paramilitaries from various zones in Medellin.
Salazar also claimed that after Perez lost in 2007 he collaborated with paramilitaries to smear the current mayor by claiming that Salazar had had paramilitary support in his campaign. Mayor Salazar said prosecutors had cleared him of all ties to paramilitaries.
Perez has denied all allegations. He told Caracol Radio “what they are doing is infamous, a lack of respect, and instead of getting true declarations they are constructing a soap opera that makes no sense and is absolutely false.”
After initially trailing Liberal Party candidate Anibal Gaviria, Perez has gained ground on his rival, and some recent polls show him edging ahead.
According to politics website La Silla Vacia, Perez was denied endorsements by the Liberal Party and Cambio Radical and currently only has the backing of some prominent Conservative Party figures but no official endorsement.