The alleged irregular financing of Gustavo Petro’s presidential campaign in the Casanare region will be investigated, police sources in Colombia have announced. The campaign is under suspicion of receiving money obtained through drug trafficking, which was revealed through phone conversations. Authorities will investigate the origin of the funds that are now in question.
The alarm was raised by an investigative report from the television channel Caracol TV, which linked a phone conversation between Sonia Bernal, the head of Petro’s campaign in the Casanare department, and Sandra Navarro, the wife of the well-known drug trafficker Juan Carlos Lopez Macias, alias Sobrino. In the conversation, they discussed money that was supposedly going to enter the 2022 presidential campaign.
Once Again, Phone Calls
The allegation of corruption comes, once again, from intercepted phone calls. As in previous cases exposed in the media, those allegedly responsible for collecting illicit funds use the telephone, disregarding the risks of being victims of a common practice in the country’s political contests: wiretapping.
In this specific case, Sonia Bernal, who now holds a high position in the Ministry of the Interior of the Colombian government, was serving as the campaign manager for the president in the Casanare region at that time, in the eastern part of the country.
In a conversation published by Colombian television, Bernal is heard asking Sandra Navarro, who has identified herself as the wife of a well-known local drug trafficker, for money to finance the electoral campaign on a regional radio station. According to the communication, they agree on a payment of 800,000 pesos, which Navarro will leave at the office of the Historic Pact, Gustavo Petro’s political coalition.
“I was in El Algarrobo yesterday talking about you; they asked me about you, doctor. And I was over there distributing publicity and telling them why they should vote for you, for the Pact,” one of the conversations says. Bernal responds, “We opened that little space for you because you supported us, but you have to pay this afternoon,” at which point Navarro says she will bring 800,000 pesos.
A Beneficial Relationship
The relationship between the two women seems so close that, according to some media reports after listening to the conversations, the drug trafficker’s wife lent vehicles to transport political leaders from the Historic Pact who were campaigning in Casanare. One of the individuals who reportedly used these vehicles was former senator and current mayoral candidate for Bogotá, Gustavo Bolívar.
However, toward the end of the campaign and just a few days before the second round of the presidential election in late June 2022, another phone conversation reveals Navarro complaining aggressively, “They’re all a bunch of SOBs, and they only look for me to contribute money,” Navarro can be heard saying.
She was also seen on the political stage, surrounded by people as close to the president as Vice President Francia Márquez, at a campaign event in the region. When asked about this, Márquez denied knowing Navarro, as well as many other people who appear on the political stages at mass campaign events.
The case has been questioned by some government coalition sectors as too obvious. There is no evidence in the conversations of large sums of money being received, beyond minimal financial support and vehicles for transporting political representatives.
Regardless, the recordings exist, and the voices of the participants in hundreds of conversations are clearly identified.
Historic Pact Denies
The director of the Police, William Salamanca, has announced that his criminal investigations department will open an investigation to clarify the facts. However, Salamanca has stated that the investigation falls under the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office, and the investigative body will have police support in its work on the case.
Officials from the Historic Pact in the region have denied the allegations. Máximo Noriega, for instance, described Sandra Navarro as a mere “enthusiast of Petro” with no connection to the financing of the presidential campaign in Casanare. Noriega also stated that Navarro has no convictions related to drug trafficking and that he was unaware of her friendship with the regional campaign manager, Sonia Bernal.
However, the conversations do seem to reflect a certain level of closeness, and while no fraudulent deposits have been detected, based on what is known about electoral finances so far, the investigation is expected to shed light on the case.
Regarding logistical support, Navarro also denied it, stating that the vehicles used to transport Vice President Francia Márquez were “provided solely and exclusively by the National Protection Unit (UNP). Private vehicles were never used.”
Statements from Those Involved
Sonia Bernal herself, a key figure in the phone conversations, has denied any illegal money entering the presidential campaign from drug trafficking in a video posted on her social media. Bernal labeled the allegations as “slander aimed at ending local leaders who believe in the need for Change.”
In response to “these tendentious statements and falsehoods,” Bernal denied that Sonia Navarro contributed to the presidential campaign. She also denied having had dozens of conversations, as the media claim. Bernal says she only spoke with Navarro once and denied receiving loans of vehicles or other logistical support.
President Gustavo Petro himself has denied any involvement in the entry of illicit funds into his campaign in the Casanare region. “I never made a campaign appearance in Yopal, and we never received contributions from anyone in Casanare,” the president said when the initial news report was made public.
What is evident with this case, however, is the need to clarify the campaign’s financing, especially in light of the serious allegations against the president’s son, Nicolas Petro, who admitted in court to receiving payments from known drug traffickers, some of which allegedly ended up in his father’s campaign.
Although Nicolas Petro has always denied that the president was aware of these funds entering the campaign, the judicial tangle has only just begun, and it is expected that the trial will shed light on a case that has hit the presidency like a political bomb.