Colombian Leader Denies Links to Cali Drug Cartel
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — IN a marathon nine hours of testimony Tuesday, the president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper denied accusations that he knowingly accepted money from drug traffickers for his election campaign.
President Samper testified before a congressional investigator charged with examining allegations that Samper's 1994 presidential campaign received donations from the Cali drug cartel.
''I have denied one by one the accusations made against me and have responded one by one to untrue reports and calumnies,'' Samper said in a nationally televised speech after his testimony.
''I feel calm and satisfied,'' he said.
The investigation into Samper's campaign funding was opened after the discovery of a $50,000 check from a Cali cartel front company made out to the campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina.
Mr. Medina was arrested and later revealed in testimony to judges that the campaign received nearly $6 million from the Cali cartel. Both Samper and ex-Defense Minister Fernando Botero Zea knew about the donations, Medina said.
Mr. Botero and another member of the campaign team have since been arrested and charged with accepting drug money for the campaign.
So far, the only evidence that Samper was aware of the ill-gotten money is based on statements by Medina.
But Samper, who was elected in June 1994, has always claimed that any drug money in his campaign entered behind his back.
Under Colombian law, the details of Samper's testimony are not made public.
In his speech, Samper cast aside several accusations. ''I was supposedly seen in Europe when I wasn't even there.... Dates, places, and circumstances have been misapplied and distorted,'' he said.
Samper attributed the claims against him to ''ignorance ... resentment ... and obscure foreign interests.''
The investigation by the Commission of Accusations at Congress was opened nearly two months ago, at the request of the president himself. According to Colombian law, Congress is the only body allowed to judge a president.
But skepticism surrounds the ability of members of Congress to investigate Samper. The majority of the commission's members belong to Samper's Liberal Party, and several have themselves been accused of accepting money from drug traffickers.
Since the investigation began, Heyne Mogollon Montoya, in charge of the congressional inquiry, has interviewed 17 other witnesses including the heads of the Cali cartel, the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela.
Mr. Mogollon must close the investigation by Oct. 10 and present his findings to the rest of the commission by Oct. 25.
If the commission believes the president behaved incorrectly, it must present its case to the House of Deputies. If Samper is found guilty, the Senate must then decide whether to impeach him.
Evidence against Samper appeared to be mounting with the revelation last week that the Cali cartel's chief accountant has handed himself in to United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials.
The accountant, Guillermo Alejandro Pallomari Gonzalez, alias ''Reagan,'' allegedly fled Colombia in fear of his life after his wife was kidnapped in August.
He was apparently threatened by Cali cartel mobsters, wary he might reveal the activities of the cartel.
Mystery surrounds his escape to the US. Top Colombian police officials say Mr. Pallomari, a wanted man, left the country illegally. Many observers suspect he was smuggled out of Colombia by the DEA.
Pallomari could open a Pandora's box of names of politicians, sports stars, police officers, and celebrities who received bribes from the Cali cartel.
The DEA has kept tight-lipped about Pallomari; it is not clear they will share any information he gives them with Colombian authorities. But a national weekly magazine here, Semana, says Pallomari confirmed that huge amounts of drug money had flowed into Samper's campaign fund.