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LATIN AMERICA

Colombian president acknowledges his emails were hacked

Sector within military intelligence is working against Santos, reports weekly ‘Semana’

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last Friday.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last Friday.L. ACOSTA (AFP)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos revealed late Sunday that he and his family have been the victims of an alleged espionage ring that monitored his personal communications, including his email accounts.

In a statement released by Santos, the Colombian leader called the incidents “serious, strange and unacceptable.” He did not identify which of his family members had also been targeted but the Bogota daily, El Tiempo, which belongs to the Santos family, reported on its website Monday that the president’s daughter, María Antonio, had filed an identity theft complaint with prosecutors last week.

The public prosecutor’s office announced that it has opened an official inquiry into the spying allegations.

The Colombian president may be the latest target of an alleged spying scandal that broke last month when the news weekly Semana reported that it had obtained dozens of audio recordings of conversations between government mediators, who are trying to reach a peace deal in Havana with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to put an end to a 51-year-old insurgency.

The Colombian leader called the incidents “serious, strange and unacceptable”

The spying was reportedly conducted by some members of Colombia’s military intelligence.

Santos said he had known for some time that his conversations and emails were being monitored, but felt the need to come forward publicly after Semana columnist Daniel Coronell revealed that military intelligence was also listening in to the president’s communications.

“There is a sector within the military that is working against the president and reports to someone else other than the commander in chief,” Coronell wrote.

One of the intercepted email messages revealed by Semana was written by Santos on December 16, 2012 to Fernando Botero Zea, a former defense minister who was convicted in a financing scandal involving drug money and President Ernesto Samper’s campaign. Botero is the grandson of renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero and the president had asked for his advice on the purchase of some of his grandfather’s artworks. The email was sent just one month after peace talks began in Havana between government officials and FARC representatives, and when the first communications were allegedly monitored by the military intelligence.

In the statement, Santos acknowledged that other messages will be leaked in the coming days. “This email is one of more than a thousand of my emails that, over the last few days, are being selectively leaked to cause the most severe damage possible, coinciding with the start of the election campaign. This suggests that there are political motives behind this, and they must be investigated to find and punish those responsible for this illegal conduct,” the statement said.

Nevertheless, Santos dismissed the importance of the content of any of the messages, saying “none will merit a response on my part.”

But Univisión, the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States, reported that it had reviewed a good number of the emails, which are mainly personal in nature but also include private messages to ambassadors and ministers, and to his image consultants.

For his part, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he has asked Spain, Britain, South Korea and Israel to send their best computer security experts to Colombia to evaluate the hacking incidents.

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