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Politicians: President Samper Likely to Be Absolved of Drug Allegations

June 13, 1996

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Despite damning testimony that Colombian President Ernesto Samper took $6 million from the Cali drug cartel, opponents and supporters Wednesday said they expected him to be absolved.

The House of Representatives, debating Wednesday whether to impeach Samper, is dominated by the president’s Liberal Party loyalists, more than a dozen of whom are themselves under investigation for corruption.

``There simply is no sufficient evidence to accuse President Samper,″ said pro-Samper congressman Carlos Alonso Lucio, an acknowledged friend of a leader of the Cali cartel.

Sen. Jaime Arias, president of the opposition Conservative Party, called the House’s two-week trial over the alleged drug money contributions ``a comedy.″

Samper insists he did not take the money during his 1994 campaign for president and has resisted a growing clamor for his resignation. His attorney general and seven congressman are already in jail on drug money charges.

Many political analysts predict that even if absolved, the president will be struggling to govern a nation increasingly fractured by the scandal.

But Samper contends his absolution would allow him to lift the country out of a political gridlock that he says has hurt efforts to combat South America’s most vigorous leftist insurgency and damaged an otherwise robust economy.

Washington has hinted it is considering stiff sanctions in the event of Samper’s absolution. In March, the United States decertified Colombia as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking, citing evidence Samper took the drug money.

The United States also revoked the visas of Colombia’s attorney general and comptroller, citing alleged drug trafficking links.

Bogota’s stock market and the peso have both weakened and business leaders say investment has dropped off sharply.

Indignant opponents of Samper _ among them business, political, and church leaders _ said last week they would launch strikes, lockouts and other forms of protest starting late Thursday if he were not impeached.

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