The former Colombian presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, is set to face prosecution, facing charges of illicit enrichment and fraud. This legal action arises from Zuluaga’s alleged involvement in the irregular financing of campaigns in the Odebrecht case.
In addition to the politician, his son, David Zuluaga, who served as the campaign manager for his father, will also stand trial. David Zuluaga is also charged with allegedly providing false information to the National Electoral Council (NEC) by denying his knowledge of his father’s alleged corruption, of which he was aware.
Zuluaga was the right-wing candidate for the 2014 elections, representing the uribista movement. However, he lost to Juan Manuel Santos, who was subsequently elected to a second term after serving as the country’s president since 2010.
The prosecution will take both Zuluagas to court for their alleged actions aimed at concealing the possible receipt of over $1.6 million in their campaign from the Brazilian multinational Odebrecht. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, both of them lied, misled the authorities, and the former candidate financially benefited from the deception.
They knew they were committing a crime
The Prosecutor’s Office accuses the former candidate from the conservative Democratic Center party and his son of committing a crime, despite being aware that they were breaking the law since they knew it was illegal to accept money from international sponsors. According to the document, the uribista presidential candidate chose to omit Odebrecht’s substantial contribution to his campaign from both the first and second round income and expense reports.
Additionally, the Prosecutor’s Office attributes to Oscar Ivan Zuluaga the receipt of 25,291 million pesos as reimbursement for votes through fraudulent behavior. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga misled the NEC in 2014 by directing payments of 16,828,966,584 and 8,642,488,922 pesos for vote reimbursement in the first and second rounds, respectively. This incident is not related to his political party or his campaign manager, his son David.
The only criminal conduct in which David Zuluaga is implicated, alongside Oscar Ivan, is for appearing before the National Electoral Council (NEC) in the investigation into Odebrecht’s alleged financing and denying the facts. This conduct by the campaign manager allegedly delayed the investigation, as the NEC closed the case in 2017 due to “no full evidence of the entry of irregular funds into the presidential campaign” after more than 300 proceedings.
Evidence from the Prosecution
Nevertheless, the Prosecutor’s investigations did find evidence of corruption. Among the most compelling pieces of evidence are two audio recordings provided by Daniel Garcia Arizabaleta, a politician from the Democratic Center as well. These recordings feature Zuluaga admitting to knowing about Odebrecht’s financing and denying it in various settings.
“According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Article 109 of the Political Constitution, which prohibits political parties, movements, and significant citizen groups from receiving resources from natural or legal foreign persons for electoral campaigns, was violated. Additionally, an unjustified increase in assets in favor of Zuluaga President 2014-2018 was generated,” states the prosecuting authority.
With this incriminating evidence, the Prosecutor’s Office will charge the former presidential candidate with six crimes: two counts of falsification of private documents, three counts of procedural fraud, and one count of illicit enrichment by private individuals. His son and campaign manager will only be charged with procedural fraud.
Garcia Arizabaleta was a senatorial candidate for the Democratic Center when he became involved in the corruption scandal known as the Odebrecht case. Specifically, the politician was accused of accepting bribes from the Brazilian multinational for Zuluaga’s presidential campaign. The investigation against Garcia began because he had been mentioned in the testimony of an Odebrecht executive, who claimed to have met with Garcia Arizabaleta in 2014 to discuss a donation to the campaign.
Initially, he did not accept the charges, but in May 2023, he opted for a judicial “opportunity principle” in which he agreed to accept charges and testify against Zuluaga. The agreement allowed Garcia Arizabaleta to present the audio recordings where Zuluaga admitted to knowing about the bribes.
The Zuluagas do not accept the charges
In this context, neither of the accused Zuluagas accepted the charges during the arraignment hearing in July. Therefore, the option to negotiate an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office to obtain legal benefits is not available.
In a collaborative context with the justice system, when the accused admits to the charges, pre-trial agreements and negotiations can be made. They face a trial with the possibility of obtaining legal benefits, which can lead to a reduction of up to 50% of the final sentence imposed by the court.
In this case, the accused will face a penalty that, for illicit enrichment alone, due to vote reimbursement, can reach up to 15 years in prison and a fine of 58,000 million pesos.