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Investigators Split on Drug Corruption Probe Against Colombian President

May 20, 1996

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Congressional investigators were divided Monday on whether evidence suggests President Ernesto Samper took money from the world’s largest drug syndicate to win election.

Rep. Heyne Mogollon, the chairman of the House of Representatives Accusation Commission, said no evidence exists that Samper knowingly took about $6 million from the Cali drug cartel to finance his 1994 election bid.

``There is no other logical or judicial conclusion except finding him innocent of the charge,″ he said in his report, parts of which were published Monday in Bogota’s El Tiempo newspaper.

But Rep. Rodrigo Arcila said Monday there is enough evidence against Samper to continue the probe. A third investigator, Rep. Eliecer Meneses, is expected to disclose his conclusions within the next week.

The 15-member Accusations Commission must consider the findings by the three men and pass its recommendation along to the House of Representatives.

If the lower house decides there is enough evidence to send the case to the Senate, Samper would have to step down temporarily while senators decide whether to impeach him.

Opposition leaders say the case would never get that far because congressmen from Samper’s ruling Liberal Party, who dominate the Accusations Commission and both houses of Congress, would absolve the president.

The Accusations Commission absolved Samper in December, citing lack of evidence. It reopened the case after jailed campaign director Fernando Botero broke months of silence and accused Samper of soliciting the illegal contributions.

The president says he is innocent. His lawyer has hinted Botero and campaign treasurer Santiago Medina, now under house arrest, may have taken the drug money for themselves.

Even if he is absolved, Samper’s problems may not be over. The nation’s highest court for constitutional matters ruled the president could still face a criminal trial regardless of Congress’ decision.

And prosecutors are expected to decide next week whether to arrest three of Samper’s ministers _ all former campaign aides _ for allegedly helping take the Cali cartel cash and then covering up the crime.

Samper has rejected growing calls for his resignation from business, church and opposition leaders.

Prosecutors are investigating about 20 other politicians for alleged links to the cartel. Seven congressmen already have been jailed.

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