A former Colombian senator extradited to the US acknowledged giving former President Ernesto Samper illegal campaign donations and claimed Samper allies plotted to kill an opposition leader, according to a magazine interview.
Former senator Samuel Lopesierra told the respected Cambio magazine's Sunday issue that the donations to Samper's 1994 campaign were meant to "buy" permission to continue his smuggling of cigarettes and liquor along Colombia's Caribbean coast. Samper could not be reached to comment on the claim.
Lopesierra spoke with the weekly newsmagazine from a Colombian jail in early August, before he was extradited, the magazine said. He gave the interview on condition his remarks not be published until he left the country. Lopesierra, accused of heading a ring that sent tons of cocaine to the US, was sent to the US on Aug. 29 in the custody of US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Hours before leaving Colombia, Lopesierra told local media he planned to expose corrupt politicians once in the US.
Perhaps most damaging for the former president are Lopesierra's claims that Samper's close circle of political friends conspired to kill opposition leader Alvaro Gomez Hurtado.
Gomez, a former senator and ambassador to Washington, was shot to death as he got into his car after teaching a class at a Bogota university in 1995. The publisher of an opposition newspaper, Gomez had written editorials urging Samper to resign over the allegations he won the 1994 elections with huge donations from the Cali cartel.
According to Cambio, Lopesierra said he took part in at least two meetings in which the assassination plan was discussed. According to Lopesierra, Samper's circle believed Gomez "was the only person who could force the president to resign," Cambio said.
Known as the "Marlboro man" for smuggling large quantities of cigarettes in northern Colombia, Lopesierra had previously said he feared he would be killed in jail by people who did not want him to talk.
Interior Minister Fernando Londono said Saturday that the Colombian mafia had indeed offered US$5 million to have Lopesierra killed before he could reveal his secrets.
Lopesierra told the magazine he had every intention of cooperating with US officials in exchange for a lighter sentence. He appeared to admit his guilt in minor drug trafficking, but said the US is more interested in obtaining information from him.
"They are going to extradite me for conspiring to send just 5kg of cocaine to the US -- that's nothing. What will really be of use to the authorities there is everything I know about the corruption of Colombian politicians," he said.
Lopesierra said that when he made the illegal campaign contribution, he handed over a check for US$500,000 to police Colonel German Osorio, the person in charge of Samper's security at the time, on behalf of former business partners.
Lopesierra's business partners in Venezuela also paid off Samper, he said.