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Colombian president’s campaign chief gets big sentence reduction

July 11, 1997

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Jailed in Colombia’s biggest drug corruption scandal, the financial administrator of President Ernesto Samper’s campaign was sentenced Thursday to six and a half years in prison, authorities said.

Juan Manuel Avella was arrested in September 1995 as prosecutors gathered evidence that the Cali drug cartel gave $6 million to Samper’s campaign.

Avella, who was found guilty of illicit enrichment and falsifying documents, is one of three top campaign officials who are serving prison terms.

He was sentenced by a so-called ``faceless″ judge, whose identity was withheld for security reasons. A court spokeswoman confirmed the sentence on condition she not be identified.

Avella, who has already served almost two years of his sentence, can appeal the decision and will likely get time off for good behavior.

Campaign chief Fernando Botero and treasurer Santiago Medina, who both implicated Samper in the scandal, were sentenced to 5-year prison terms on similar charges.

On Wednesday, a court knocked almost two years off the sentence of Botero, a former defense minister who was arrested in August 1995. He is now eligible for parole.

In January 1996, after months of silence, Botero claimed Samper knew about the cartel’s contributions, provoking calls for Samper’s resignation that nearly toppled the president.

Samper, who was cleared last year by a Congress packed with supporters, has denied wrongdoing and accused Botero of soliciting drug money for himself.

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