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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Samper: Reopen Case Against Me

BOGOTA, Colombia -- President Ernesto Samper, fighting for his political life, asked Colombia's Congress on Tuesday to reopen an investigation into charges that he knowingly received campaign money from the Cali cocaine cartel and to give him a "fair and swift'' trial based on the results.

Samper made his proposal in a 28-minute speech to a joint session of Congress that was called into special session to deal with a paralyzing political crisis that has arisen from the charges against him. In his emotional address, Samper repeatedly stated his innocence but also said he is willing to abide by the findings of legislators who would resume the inquiry.

That marked the first time Samper has acknowledged he could be forced from office by the spreading demands for his resignation from across the political spectrum. At the same time, his appeal for a judgment in`the Congress dashed widespread expectations that he could step down immediately.

Under the constitution, the lower legislative chamber acts as the investigative body in proceedings against the president. If it finds enough evidence to indict, it passes the finding on to the Senate, which can then recommend censure or resignation. The Senate decision is passed to the Supreme Court for final judgment.

Both chambers are controlled by Samper's Liberal Party. The Congress consistently ranks among Colombia's least respected institutions, and at least 16 members are under investigation on suspicion of taking drug money.

The scandal over an alleged $6 million in drug money entering Samper's campaign has festered since just before the president took office in August 1994. But when Fernando Botero, Samper's erstwhile close friend, campaign manager and defense minister, charged on Jan. 21 that the president knew of the money and solicited it, the country plunged into political crisis.

In a preview of how divisive the congressional debate is likely to be, Senator Maria Izquierdo, a Liberal who has admitted receiving drug money for her campaign, took the floor immediately after the president's speech to demand that Samper resign. She charged, without giving the date, that he directly ordered her to accept illegal money for her campaign, in the form of $30,000 from the Liberal Party campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina.

In the middle of Izquierdo's speech, which was being broadcast, the state-run television cut off, as did the sound feed to radio stations carrying proceedings live.