Colombia stunned by drug-cash scandal

President Ernesto Samper of Colombia marks a year in office at the weekend. But he will hardly be celebrating. His chances of completing a second year are slipping as a scandal over cocaine money knocks at his door.

Colombia was stunned by Wednesday's resignation of the Defence Minister, Fernando Botero, amid allegations that he had taken millions of dollars of Cali cartel money for Mr Samper's election campaign last year. Mr Botero, now under investigation by the Supreme Court, denied the allegations and said he was resigning to protect his honour.

Congress is already investigating Mr Samper's conduct at his own request and polls have shown that most Colombians believed he was lying in a television broadcast when he denied knowingly accepting drug money. US officials say privately they believe Mr Samper knew.

The talking point in Bogota was the early demise of Mr Botero. He is only 38, a Harvard graduate, the son of the world-renowned painter and sculptor Fernando Botero - and until now seen as a likely future president.

When a Botero sculpture of a bird was blown up in Medellin in June, killing more than 20 people, few Colombians doubted that the young Defence Minister was the symbolic target. The only question was whether the message came from the Medellin cocaine cartel, or the Cali cartel - whose leader, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, had just been arrested - or from Marxist guerrillas.

According to testimony by Santiago Medina, Mr Samper's campaign treasurer who was arrested last week, Mr Rodriguez Orejuela's brother and cartel partner Miguel, who is in hiding, once boasted: "I own the smallest but most expensive Botero in the world." That, according to Mr Medina, was a reference to Mr Botero Jnr, who was Mr Samper's campaign manager, and Mr Medina's boss, when the cartel allegedly provided millions of dollars in cash to the campaign last year. According to Mr Medina, he himself once visited the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers at a Cali hide-out to pass on a request from Mr Botero for $2.5m for the campaign.

The cash was later handed over to Mr Medina in gift-wrapped cardboard boxes by the journalist Alberto Giraldo or then Senator Eduardo Mestre of Mr Samper's Liberal Party, the former campaign treasurer said. Both Mr Giraldo and Mr Mestre are in detention facing charges of illegal ties with druglords.

Copies of Mr Medina's testimony were mysteriously stolen from the prosecutor- general's office last weekend. To the astonishment of journalists at his resignation press conference, Mr Botero quoted from the stolen documents in order to refute Mr Medina's charges. Asked where he had obtained the information, Mr Botero looked distinctly ruffled before saying someone had sent them to him anonymously in the mail.

US and most other diplomats in Bogota doubt whether Mr Samper can survive the scandal. Supporters of last year's conservative presidential candidate, Andres Pastrana, described Mr Samper's government as illegal, saying the alleged cocaine money may have tipped the balance in his narrow victory last year.

Although US officials publicly congratulated Mr Samper and Mr Botero for catching five of the seven Cali cartel leaders recently, some were privately suspicious. "When we put pressure on them, they suddenly came up with results," said one. "When Gilberto [Rodriguez Orejuela] was arrested, he had three guns, one in his belt, and yet no shots were fired. It's highly possible the cartel bosses struck a deal."

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week