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Santos Says Colombia Challenger Is Running Criminal Campaign

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos accused his main rival, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, of running a “criminal” campaign after a leading news weekly published a video that appears to show a former aide to Zuluaga telling the challenger that he has access to military intelligence.

The video published May 17 by Semana magazine shows former Zuluaga aide Andres Sepulveda, who was arrested May 5 on spying charges, telling Zuluaga of his access to classified information. Zuluaga said in a statement today that the video was manipulated, saying the audio and the images aren’t always synchronized.

“We expect the justice system to make a pronouncement on this, and that Dr. Oscar Ivan Zuluaga will explain himself,” Santos said today in an interview on Blu Radio. “There’s a line between dirty fighting and crime, and this is becoming a criminal campaign, which is totally unacceptable.”

The scandal created by Semana’s clip will cause “great damage” to Zuluaga’s image, and may be decisive in handing Santos a victory, said Sandra Borda, a professor of politics at Bogota’s Andes University. Four polls published May 15 and May 16 all show Santos and Zuluaga leading three other candidates in the first round of voting, meaning they would face each other in a June 15 runoff vote.

Semana didn’t say how it obtained the mobile phone footage, which appears to contradict Zuluaga’s earlier statement that he had hired Sepulveda to help his social media campaign and with information security.

Sepulveda has said he’ll cooperate with prosecutors and denies any wrongdoing.

Jeopardized Narrative

“This puts an end the story that they built around Zuluaga that he was relatively clean,” Borda said in a telephone interview from Bogota. “This video shows that this wasn’t the case.”

Gallup’s poll showed Zuluaga winning in the second round, while the others produced results that were within the margin of error. The Zuluaga campaign didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking further comment.

The challenger, who served as finance minister under former President Alvaro Uribe, has attacked Santos’ policy of holding peace talks in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and opposes any deal that would grant them immunity for crimes or allow them seats in Congress.

The government said May 16 that it had reached an agreement with the guerrillas to work together to fight illegal drugs, bringing closer an eventual deal to end the 50-year insurgency.

In a May 16 interview in Cartagena, Zuluaga said that the FARC is the world’s biggest cocaine cartel, and that the government is unwise to discuss anti-drug policy with them.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Bristow in Bogota at mbristow5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net Robert Jameson, Bill Faries

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