Colombian Presidential Contender Charged with Wiretapping


EspañolJudicial authorities in Colombia investigating an alleged money-for-secrets scandal have zeroed in on David Zuluaga, son of former presidential candidate Óscar Zuluaga. Investigators have called on David Zuluaga to give evidence over the alleged payment of some US$96,000 for the interception of communications with the objective of defaming incumbent Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during 2014’s election campaign.

The younger Zuluaga is alleged to have transferred the funds to Luis Carlos Sepúlveda, brother of Andrés Sepúlveda, who was in charge of the social-media strategy of the Democratic Center candidate, and now stands accused of being behind the so-called chuzadas (illegal wiretapping) of official communications. The money was supposedly sourced from campaign funds of Zuluaga senior, the political protegé of former President Álvaro Uribe.

David Zuluaga asked to respond to questioning via teleconference from the Colombian consulate in New York, but his request was denied by the Colombian attorney-general’s office on Monday, January 26.

The state prosecutor’s theory is that the social-media specialist sought to discredit the incumbent Santos, and sabotage his reelection campaign, by discovering and spreading secret information about the controversial peace process with Marxist guerrilla group FARC.

“Defense for the son of Óscar Zuluaga asks for ‘equal’ treatment in his investigation.”

Social-Media Scandal

The financing and expenditure of Zuluaga’s campaign is currently subject to investigation by the National Electoral Council. Zuluaga’s defense maintains that all campaign contributions were registered, and that all outgoing payments had a legal justification.

“In the hearing, David Zuluaga will explain the evidence, the motivations, and the legal background for having proceeded with 100 percent of the payments registered in campaign accounts,” David Espinosa, lawyer for Zuluaga junior, told local news outlet RCN Radio.

Investigators based their decision to deny David Zulugua a long-distance interrogation by saying that face-to-face questioning is a valuable tool for the defense, in which the subject has the most to gain from attending. The attorney-general’s office also added that the hearing will examine other elements beyond the answers given by Zuluaga junior.

Meanwhile, Vice-Attorney-General Jorge Fernando Perdomo announced that new evidence has been found against Sepúlveda, although he provided no further details.

Sepúlveda stands accused of having illegally obtained and disseminated classified information about the peace process during the closely fought presidential race in 2015.

The former social-media manager was arrested in May 2014, as scandal emerged that various secret documents relating to the peace process were in the hands of private individuals not party to negotiations — including Sepúlveda himself — due to an apparent leak that was classified as a national security risk.

Zuluaga Pulled into the Scandal

Perdomo has suggested that Zuluaga senior will be officially summoned to give evidence on the chuzadas case on Monday, January 26.

While the prosecutor has insisted that the hearings are not politically motivated, Jaime Granados Peña, legal adviser to the former presidential candidate, has argued that the case constitutes an act of political persecution against his client. Peña has further complained that Zuluaga senior has not enjoyed sufficient legal safeguards, citing the inability of the defense to thus far see the video which allegedly links him with Sepúlveda.

For Granados Peña, investigators “haven’t handled this case with the discretion and care mandated by the Constitution and in law. Rather they’ve done it in a heavily publicized way, through constant leaks to the media.”

In a confidential report that came to light on January 23, the nation’s armed forces recognized failings in the management of classified information.

“There were procedural and security errors in the handling of classified documentation and paperwork, and a lack of control and supervision in the chain of command: the humanitarian group concerned with demobilization, the center of technical intelligence of the national army, and the judicial police of the Bogotá metropolitan police,” reads the briefing.

Thirty six members of the armed forces have been punished for their role in the case, and the information obtained by investigating military authorities is to be put at the disposal of the attorney general’s office.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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