In the highest-reaching drug scandal ever to hit Colombia, the defense minister resigned Wednesday amid accusations he used money from drug traffickers to help President Ernesto Samper win last year’s election.
Defense Minister Fernando Botero, who was Samper’s campaign director, was the first high-level casualty of accusations the campaign accepted millions of dollars from the Cali cartel.
Campaign treasurer Santiago Medina was arrested a week ago.
The scandal threatens to engulf Samper, who is the target of a congressional probe into the alleged Cali cartel donations.
Samper and Botero both have denied knowing of any cartel contributions to the campaign. Samper said in a nationally broadcast speech last week that if any drug money entered his campaign, it happened without his knowledge.
Speaking to reporters in the defense ministry, Botero said in a quavery voice that he was submitting his “irrevocable resignation” to answer the allegations. No replacement was immediately named.
Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso has been considering questioning Botero because of testimony by the imprisoned Medina that implicates Botero and even Samper.
Valdivieso ordered investigators on Tuesday to determine whether there was enough evidence for a full-scale inquiry into Botero’s actions.
Communications Minister Armando Benedetti, who worked on Samper’s election bid, faces a similar probe.
Interior Minister Horacio Serpa said Wednesday the country is in crisis. One Bogota newspaper carried the headline, “Watergate!”
The scandal is the biggest to hit Colombia since 1970, when allegations emerged that a presidential election had been won by fraud. The allegations were never proven, and the winning candidate took office.