Leaked footage showing Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga receiving military intelligence allegedly obtained through spying is a video montage, said Zuluaga and his political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe.
In spite the fact that the video — revealed by magazine Semana on Saturday — clearly showed Zuluaga calmly being informed on allegedly classified information, Zuluaga and Uribe insisted in separate press conferences that the video is a “montage” and part of a set up orchestrated by the campaign team of President Juan Manuel Santos and his recently resigned spin doctor Juan Jose Rendon.
Uribe challenged the confidentiality of the information the second person in the video, arrested hacker Andres Sepulveda, claimed to have received through military intelligence, including US Southern Command spy planes monitoring the movement of FARC rebels on Colombian territory.
According to Uribe, this allegedly classified and illegally obtained information is “some information that has been going round the internet permanently. Moreover, a lot of this information circulates on internet portals,” the former president said at a brief press statement in the capital Bogota.
Semana said the video was given to the magazine by an anonymous Zuluaga staffer who wanted to expose the illegal activities of the presidential candidate.
Zuluaga in turn confirmed Uribe’s claims the conservative candidate was being framed, but took the claims further, saying the video was a “video-montage.”
Opponents demand Zuluaga’s resignation from campaign
Zuluaga made no statement indicating he would withdraw from next week’s elections as demanded by the Santos campaign team and centrist election opponent Enrique Peñalosa.
Santos’ debate manager said Saturday that Zuluaga’s “candidacy is non-viable. He should proceed and renounce immediately while the Colombian authorities should proceed immediately” to open a criminal investigation.
Peñalosa, third in the election polls after Santos and Zuluaga, called for a criminal investigation.
“He lied to the country, in the most serious way, because more than anything he was covering up criminal activity,” the Green Alliance candidate said in a statement published on Twitter.
Leftist candidate Clara Lopez joined her opponent on Sunday. In an interview with RCN Radio, the socialist candidate said that “we believe that this can not be without consequences. We ask the authorities to carry out their duties.”
So far, the country’s prosecution, led by Santos-loyalist Eduardo Montealegre, has arrested Zuluaga staffer Andres Sepulveda, accused of carrying out the wiretaps, and opened criminal investigations against former Ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos who tried funneling the allegedly illegally obtained information to national TV.
Sepulveda was arrested on May 6 after agents from the Prosecutor General’s technical investigation team (CTI) raided an apartment in northern Bogota, where they discovered 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 Sepulveda’s arrest, it was discovered that he had recently been employed by the Zuluaga campaign to assist with “information security.”
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Zuluaga speaks while Twitter goes insane
Talking to press in Bogota, Zuluaga said the video was “a vulgar trap that has been set up to stain my campaign,” local media reported.
“The modus operandi of this set-up corresponds to how J.J. Rendon’s campaigns have always gone,” Zuluaga reportedly added.
Zuluaga and Rendon worked together in 2005 when both were active in the successful, but controversial campaign to seek a second term of Uribe in the 2006 elections.
According to Zuluaga, he asked attorney Jaime Granados, also Uribe’s lawyer, to investigate the case.
In earlier statements, the candidate had promised to resign if he was found to be connected to the alleged illegal practices carried out by his campaign team. If the video is confirmed real, Zuluaga could face criminal charges for espionage and conspiracy.
On his Twitter and Facebook pages, the candidate published an electoral propaganda video regarding Colombians’ skepticism about ongoing peace talks with the FARC.
Others did take to Zuluaga’s Twitter and Facebook account to demand his resignation. The hashtag #RenuncieOIZ topped as trending topic on Twitter in Colombia throughout Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
Zuluaga not the only one in trouble
Uribe-loyals and Zuluaga supporters have stressed the coincidence of the revelation of the spy scandal ever since it broke one day after media reported that Santos’ main political strategist was accused of having received $12 million in drug money in 2010 to promote a deal between the government and Colombia’s top drug lords.
The revelation forced the immediate resignation of Rendon, considered an expert in black propaganda, and a purge of Santos’ campaign team.
Zuluaga increasing in popularity, in spite of ongoing scandal
In spite of the ongoing scandals surrounding the Zuluaga campaign, the most recent poll released by Datexco just before the cut off — according to law, no polls can be released a week leading up to the elections — shows not only that Colombians did not punish Uribe’s candidate for repeatedly lying about the scandal, but rewarded him in the wake of the matter.
Between the end of April and this Friday, Zuluaga has managed to gain nearly 10% in this poll, all but clinching his spot in a second round run-off between the Uribe-loyalist and Santos.
Colombia’s elections are set for May 25. If none of the candidates know to obtain an absolute majority in the election, a run-off between the two leading candidates will be held on June 15. The new president will be inaugurated on August 7.