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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Samper Mute on Drug Links

BOGOTA -- Despite growing evidence his election campaign accepted money from drug traffickers, Colombian President Ernesto Samper is staying silent about the scandal that has now claimed his campaign treasurer and director.

Defense Minister Fernando Botero, who directed Samper's 1994 presidential bid, resigned Wednesday amid accusations the campaign accepted millions of dollars from the Cali cartel, the world's largest supplier of cocaine.

Samper and Botero have both denied knowing of any Cali cartel funding in last year's campaign. But a relentless investigation by the Prosecutor General's Office is gathering evidence that points increasingly to Samper as a conspirator.

Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso, who is heading the probe of Cali-cartel corruption of politics, said he will hand over evidence to a congressional panel which is preparing to investigate Samper.

Among the evidence Valdivieso has compiled are statements by Santiago Medina, Samper's campaign treasurer who was arrested July 26, that Samper and Botero gave him the go-ahead to use Cali cartel money in the campaign, published reports say.

Medina testified that he received $1.7 million in cash from cartel associates, the newspaper El Espectador reported Wednesday. Medina said Botero told him campaign donations from illegal sources were being kept in a Chase Manhattan Bank account in New York, El Espectador said.

Lee Brown, director of the White House office of drug-control policy, called the allegations that the Samper campaign used drug money to gain the presidency "very disturbing."

If they proved true and went unpunished, Brown said, U.S. anti-narcotics aid to Colombia could be cut. The United States spends $70 million a year in Colombia on the anti-drug fight, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Enrique Parejo, a former justice minister and a crusader against drug traffickers, said the Samper administration is "an illegal government" and that the president should step down.

Hours after Botero quit, Samper would not discuss the case with reporters. The only word from the presidential palace was a communique saying Samper "regretfully" accepted the resignation. The statement said the minister had resigned because of "questions in the press and in elite circles in Bogota" about Botero's actions.

Botero told reporters he was submitting his "irrevocable resignation" to answer the allegations against him.

Under pressure from Washington, Colombia has cracked down on the Cali cartel and put five drug kingpins behind bars in the last two months.