Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Crooked Colombian Campaign Contractor Caught

For the second time this year, Colombian authorities uncovered an illicit spying operation that may have included surveillance of government peace talks with the FARC rebels.

Agents representing the Colombian prosecutors office raided an office used by the social media team of Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the presidential candidate representing the political party loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe.  Andrés Sepulveda was arrested during the raid, and suspected with spying over the peace negotiations held in Cuba and also trying to hack the e-mail account of President Juan Manuel Santos.

"The aim of the people who are connected to that criminal enterprise, was to sabotage and interfere with the peace process in Havana," Eduardo Montealegre said at a press conference yesterday.

In a radio interview this morning, Montealegre added that Sepulveda attempted to infiltrate the e-mail accounts of one of the top negotiators for the FARC, foreign journalists and ex-congresswoman Piedad Córdoba.

Sepulveda also claimed that the campaign activist sold his information for at least $100 million pesos (over $51,000) to unknown parties as part of a “black market of information.”

Zuluaga, who could force a runoff against Santos in the May 25th election, condemned Sepulveda’s actions and claimed that he was “surprised” over the allegations.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged that his campaign did hire the services of the firm Sepulveda belonged to that was run by the hacker’s sister-in-law.

According to the Colombian press, Sepulveda presents him in social media networks as a “senior developer and ethical hacker.”  Among the messages he wrote on his Twitter account in recent weeks includes “the worst thing a strategist can do is to be without principles and sell himself to the highest bidder.  That double morality is shameful.”

Sepulveda’s lawyer, Luis Bernardo Alzate, indicated that his client would consider seeking a plea deal with the prosecutor’s office. Alzate also said that Sepulveda had previously worked in different campaigns for figures like Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and disgraced strategist J.J. Rendón.

Rendón, who has been described as “Latin America’s Karl Rove” for planning the campaigns of conservative candidates throughout the region, resigned as chief strategist from the Santos reelection team this week.  He left the Santos team following media reports days ago alleging that he received $12 million from drug capos in 2011 as part of a failed attempt to hand themselves in to the authorities.  (The Venezuelan-born Rendón has denied the accusations against him).

The Sepulveda and Rendón affairs come roughly two months after the discovery of a secret surveillance center in Bogotá with ties to the military that monitored communications between intermediaries for the government and the guerillas.  Then-army intelligence chief Gen. Mauricio Ricardo Zuniga was fired by Santos due to the “totally unacceptable” actions at the center.

Thus far there has been no public comment from Uribe over the hacking allegations against Sepulveda even though he worked on the U Party’s 2005 campaign for the reelection of the then-president. Uribe, who was embroiled years ago in a massive wiretapping scandal by the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency, had previously used “loose wheels” in the Colombian military as part of his ongoing criticism of Santos:   
In April (2013), unknown elements in the army provided Uribe with an internal memo listing the coordinates where military operations had been temporarily suspended in order to guarantee the safe passage of guerrilla leaders leaving Colombia to join their comrades at the negotiating table in Cuba. As the most prominent critic of the peace process, Uribe gleefully posted its contents on Twitter as “proof” of official collusion with the rebels, to the annoyance of the Santos administration.

Uribe, for his part, has denied anything to do with the surveillance, telling Caracol Noticias that it was an “infamy” to suggest otherwise. “The biggest corruption of this government is to hide and distract from public opinion, to put up smokescreens,” the ex-president said.
Investigators have not directly implicated Uribe or Zuluaga to the Sepulveda scandal.

Video Source – Noticias Canal Capital via YouTube

Online Sources – The Pan-American Post; BBC News; Colombia Reports; The Guardian; El Tiempo; RCN Radio; LAHT; El Espectador; Noticias Caracol; Fox News Latino

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