BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leading opposition candidate in Colombia’s presidential election next Sunday denied any role in a hacking scandal that has hurt his campaign, describing it as a trap set to derail his growing support.
Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who has narrowly overtaken incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos in voter polls, was asked on Sunday to quit the race by an opponent and scores of legislators who said a video published over the weekend proved he had lied about spying accusations.
The video showed his campaign’s former social media consultant informing Zuluaga he had obtained confidential military information, apparently illegally. Zuluaga does not react or question his access to state secrets.
The video appeared to contradict Zuluaga’s claims, when the consultant Andres Sepulveda was later arrested for spying on the peace negotiations with FARC rebels, that any illegal spying the man may have been involved in had no link to Zuluaga’s campaign.
Zuluaga on Monday called on Colombians to back him in Sunday’s election, describing it as the “dream” of main rival President Juan Manuel Santos that he would quit. He called the video a “montage” whose audio and images did not match.
“This video, which was made illegally, which is clearly a montage and a trap; for whoever has listened to it and watched it carefully, there is no conversation or declaration that demonstrates illegal conduct,” he told reporters.
Zuluaga said there were at least two points in the video where manipulation was evident and parts where the audio did not appear to match the images, describing his being filmed in secret as illegal. He also said he had no recollection of the meeting in the video, but said it was justifiable given his busy schedule.
He said the video “montage” was reminiscent of tactics used by Venezuelan political guru JJ Rendon in other Latin American election campaigns he had worked on. Rendon worked for Santos until resigning on May 5 over allegations he took a $12 million payment to lobby against extraditing several drug traffickers.
Voter polls showed that by last week Zuluaga had gained a narrow edge over Santos who was previously the front runner.
The two differ little on economic policy, but Zuluaga is skeptical of the peace process Santos has initiated with FARC rebels in a bid to end a 50-year war that has killed 220,000.
Santos says he needs another four-year mandate to seal a peace deal while Zuluaga has threatened to call the talks off if elected, unless the FARC first agree to cease criminal activity.
Editing by Ken Wills