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Ex-Defense Minister Arrested In Colombian Scandal

The former defense minister and director of President Ernesto Samper’s campaign was arrested Tuesday for interrogation as Colombia’s biggest drug scandal reached ever closer to Samper himself.

Fernando Botero, who directed Samper’s 1994 campaign, was questioned on allegations the Cali drug cartel helped Samper win the presidency by contributing millions of dollars to his campaign, the prosecutor general’s office said.

Botero, who resigned as defense minister on Aug. 2, was the second member of Samper’s inner circle to be arrested in less than three weeks.

Samper’s campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina, was arrested July 26. Medina told prosecutors that Botero plotted to have the Cali cartel contribute at least $6.1 million to Samper’s campaign.

The Cali drug cartel supplies 80 percent of the world’s cocaine and is widely believed to have substantial influence in Colombian politics.

Botero turned himself in after officials signed an arrest warrant. In a statement, he said he was surrendering “to defend the actions of the president, of top government officials and my own actions in the election campaign.”

Botero spent more than five hours in prosecutors’ offices and emerged smiling. He stepped into a bullet-proof sedan and, escorted by army troops in trucks, was sped off to a military cavalry school in northern Bogota, where he was being held.

He will be detained for a maximum of 10 working days while prosecutors conduct their preliminary investigation into his actions in the campaign, said a senior source in the prosecutor general’s office.

After that period, Botero can either be freed or held longer if prosecutors determine there is sufficient evidence to make a case against him.

Both Samper and Botero have denied knowing of any campaign contributions from drug traffickers. Samper has said that if any drug money was used by the campaign, it happened behind his back.

Samper’s office issued a statement supporting prosecutors’ actions but also expressing confidence Botero would be able to prove his innocence.

Samper is being investigated by a congressional commission at his own request. Some opposition politicians have complained that the commission’s probe will be a whitewash. Several members of congress are also being investigated for links to drug traffickers.

Tags: finance