Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga confessed to meeting with a hacker accused of illegally spying on the Colombian peace process, Colombian media reported Saturday.
Zuluaga had previously denied having contact with Andres Sepulveda, a contractor formerly employed by his campaign as a social media expert, but changed his story this weekend, apparently following a consultation with his staff.
“On one occasion, at the beginning of my campaign, I visited the office of whom today is accused of acting illegally. I went to greet the people who were doing social support work,” Zuluaga confirmed, adding, “I want to speak frankly, with all truth while always acting in good faith.”
The presidential candidate went on to blast those who have used the recent scandal to discredit him.
“I feel that behind all of this, dear friends, is a group plotting against our campaign,” said Zuluaga, who went on to distance himself from Sepulveda and the illicit digital espionage he stands accused of carrying out. “I have no involvement in the details of the operational issues of the campaign […] There is a team leading that […] Our campaign of nearly 200 volunteers are contributing to the work everyday. Virtually, I have no involvement on the topic of operational issues.”
Sepulveda, a computer engineer hired several months ago by the Zuluaga campaign, was arrested last week for conducting a secret wiretapping operation targeting government and rebel delegations to ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC rebel group, Colombia’s oldest.
According to preliminary investigation results, as reported by the Prosecutor General this weekend, Sepulveda collaborated with members of the Armed Forces to access privileged information, and later shared said information with politicians and other elements of the military and sold it on the black market.
Immediately following the revelations, Sepulveda’s actions were widely painted as a deliberate effort to sabotage the peace talks on the part of the Zuluaga campaign, as Zuluaga and former President Alvaro Uribe, the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico) party leader, have been staunchly opposed to the talks since their inception in November 2012.
Zuluaga Campaign Director Luis Alfonso Hoyos, who was videotaped entering the RCN news offices with Sepulveda on a day the latter allegedly attempted to sell the news station classified information, has already resigned over the scandal, though he denies any wrongdoing.
The Sepulveda scandal comes in the wake of separate revelations made this past March regarding a military operation that also monitored the communications of peace delegations, as well as journalists covering the negotiations and opposition politicians close to the talks.
Despite fears that such outside interference would destabilize the ongoing talks, which recently entered their 25th round, chief government negotiator Huberto de la Calle has said that illicit surveillance has not had any crucial impact on the tone of negotiations or the resolve of the parties to forge a lasting peace.
So far, only Sepulveda has been arrested in relation to the most recent incident, though experts are combing through computers seized as part of the investigation and have not ruled out further arrests.