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Accusations against relatives are a blow to the Colombian president



BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Gustavo Petro has asked prosecutors to investigate charges against his brother and one of his sons that could deal a blow to his presidency and undermine his peace and anti-corruption plans.

Petro, a former guerrilla who was elected Colombia’s first left-wing president last year, has vowed to fight endemic corruption and bring “total peace” to the South American country which only recently signed on. in 2016, a peace pact largely ending decades of internal war. .

The prosecutor’s office said it had begun investigating the accusation against Nicolás Petro, the president’s son, made by his former partner of keeping irregular donations to his father’s presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, the president’s brother is accused of being involved in a ring that allegedly received benefits for promising to help drug traffickers enroll in the government’s “total peace” program.

“I have a responsibility to be true to the votes that many of you cast for me,” the president said the day before asking for both cases to be investigated.

The cases hit the pillars of Petro’s election campaign and will impact the president’s public image and could call into question the legitimacy of the government’s peace process, said political analyst Carlos Arias Orejuela, a professor at the Externado University of Colombia.

“This, given that Petro based his narrative on him bringing ‘change’, not only in government, but in the practical forms of politics and his background with the fight against corruption and the mismanagement of nepotism politics,” he said.

Nicolás Petro’s ex-partner Day Vásquez said he received money improperly from his father’s campaign donations.

In an interview with Semana magazine, Vásquez said the president’s son had received more than 600 million Colombian pesos (about $125,000) from Samuel Santander Lopesierra, known as the “Marlboro Man” and imprisoned in the United States. United for drug trafficking.

The donation “never legally reached the campaign because he kept the money along with others,” Vásquez said without providing evidence. She added that the president had no knowledge of the money.

“It was all behind the father’s back,” she said.

According to Vásquez, Nicólas Petro, who is a legislator in Atlantico province, also received up to 400 million pesos (about $83,000) from Alfonso del Cristo Hilsaca, a businessman from northern Colombia.

The president’s son has denied the charges, saying he does not know Lopesierra or Hilsaca.

“I have not encountered or received any type of political, personal or economic favor from any questionable character,” he said in a statement.

President Petro has six children.

Complaints have also been filed against the president’s brother, Juan Fernando Petro, regarding a network of lawyers and organizations that allegedly took money to link drug traffickers and people wanted for extradition to the “peace total” of the government.

The 2016 Colombian peace pact was with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, but smaller groups remained. President Petro has offered negotiations with these groups for their members to surrender to justice in exchange for benefits.

He proposed to Washington to modify the extradition agreement with his country so that drug traffickers who turn to Colombian authorities and do not return to trafficking can avoid extradition.

The president’s brother denied any involvement in the network and said he had already responded to a call from prosecutors investigating the case. He said malicious third parties use his name to deceive drug traffickers.

Petro and his government have reiterated that the only official who has their approval to have contact with illegal groups is the High Commissioner for Peace.

“Anyone who wants to interfere in this goal (to achieve peace) or to take personal advantage of it has no place in the government, even if he is a member of my family,” President Petro said. “I hope my brother and my son can prove their innocence, but I will respect the findings of the courts.”

Sandra Borda, a political analyst and professor at the Universidad de Los Andes, said the charges are a political blow to the president reminiscent of the scandal that rocked the Ernesto Samper administration (1994-1998). He was eventually found not guilty of receiving money from drug dealers as part of his campaign.

“We have the precedent of drug money coming into a campaign in the past, but in this case it wasn’t people that close, like the president’s own family,” Borda said.

Analysts agree the charges against Petro’s relatives could impact local elections in October.

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