Colombian presidential candidate candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and his political ally, former President Alvaro Uribe, were hit by a wave of criticism Tuesday after admitting to having hired a computer engineer who was arrested for spying on ongoing peace talks with rebel group FARC and possibly President Juan Manuel Santos.
The clandestine Bogota wiretapping facility — the second one seized in the past six month — was raided by prosecution officials earlier in the day, after which an arrested suspect was announced who was soon ties to Zuluaga and the political leader of his Democratic Center party.
The news caused a political tsunami after the prosecutor general confirmed that the room was used to surveil officials involved in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC, and said the communications of President Juan Manuel Santos were “probably” intercepted too.
Only months before, the Prosecutor General’s Office had begun investigating the wiretapping of the president after discovering another clandestine wiretapping facility accused of wiretapping the peace talks negotiators.
Santos loyalists say Uribe attempts to sabotage peace process
“I am terrified by Zuluaga’s acting as his desire to retake power, with predetermination and brute force, is seeks to end the peace process” said Senator Armando Benedetti (U Party), a supporter of the president’s attempts to negotiate peace with the country’s oldest and largest rebel group and get reelected to Colombia’s highest office.
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.”
Sepulveda 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.
Links between Zuluaga and wiretap campaign
In an online profile, Sepulveda said to have worked for the U Party, Santos’ own party, in 2005 when the U Party was campaigning for the reelection of Uribe who was president at the time.
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.”
Sepulveda was arrested on Tuesday morning after agents with the Prosecutor General’s technical investigation team (CTI) raided the apartment in northern Bogota where surveillance equipment used to intercept electronic communications was discovered.
A history of spying
The latest wiretapping scandal is the second this year and the third in the past six years.
In February, the Colombian military command was purged after an intelligence unit found itself accused of illegally wiretapping the peace talks and the president ordered the investigation of the alleged hacking of his own computer.
That scandal brought back memories of the DAS wiretapping scandal that unfolded how the now-defunct intelligence agency DAS wiretapped opposition politician, supreme court magistrates, journalists and human rights organizations.
The investigation that followed led to the arrest of Uribe’s former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, and spurred former DAS director Maria del Pilar Hurtado to flee the country.
FACT SHEET: DAS Wiretapping Scandal