Colombia arrests hacker who spied on talks between government and FARC

Engineer also worked for opposition candidate in the presidential campaign

Juan Manuel Santos greets supporters in Villavicencio on Tuesday.
Juan Manuel Santos greets supporters in Villavicencio on Tuesday.J. M. G. (REUTERS)

The Colombian Attorney’s Office has discovered an office north of Bogotá that was being used to illegally intercept communications between the government and FARC guerrillas in Cuba, where peace negotiations are taking place.

“The goal was to sabotage, intervene in, and affect the peace process and to attack national security,” said Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre at a press conference on Tuesday. The raid on the office took place on Monday night.

The most controversial part of the case is that the only detainee so far is an engineer named Andrés Fernando Sepúlveda, who not only headed this spying center but also worked for the presidential campaign of opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, helping with social network management and computer security issues.

The eavesdroppers allegedly accessed the email accounts of FARC’s press chief in Havana, two Cuban journalists who are covering the talks, and a government email, according to Montealegre.

“If someone committed a crime, let them be punished, let there be no impunity” Opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga

Investigators are also trying to determine whether President Juan Manuel Santos’s account was also hacked. Santos claims that it was, after several personal messages of his were revealed more than two months ago. The Attorney’s Office says it has evidence to back this hypothesis.

Zuluaga, the Uribista contender for the presidential office, admitted in a press release that Sepúlveda and his wife, the actress Lina Luna Rodríguez, were working for him as advisors and performing “the convened tasks to the full satisfaction of our campaign, with no complaints on our part.”

Zuluaga, who says that if he is elected he will cancel the peace talks, tried to distance himself from the scandal and denied any link to his own campaign. “If someone committed a crime, let them be punished, let there be no impunity,” he said.

The Santos team was quick to react. Senator Armando Benedetti accused Zuluaga of trying to affect the negotiations with FARC. “Out of his desire to get power back, in a cruel and premeditated fashion, they are trying to end the peace process,” he told the local media.

In a cruel and premeditated fashion, they are trying to end the peace process” Senator Armando Benedetti

The Attorney’s Office says it will charge Sepúlveda with unlawful violation of communications, use of malware, intercepting computer data and espionage in connection with the peace process taking place in Havana for the last year-and-a-half.

One of the rules of the talks is that they are taking place behind closed doors and while each side has made some public statements regarding progress, the final agreement will only be revealed when it is signed.

According to the attorney general, Sepúlveda was trading with the confidential information, although for now it is unclear to whom he sold it and for what purpose.

But Montealegre ruled out any connection with the army. In February of this year, another office was found in Bogotá where a group of military rebels had been spying on the negotiations between the government and FARC.

In less than two days the Santos and Zuluaga campaigns have found themselves involved in scandals that have shaken up the otherwise monotonous presidential run. Santos’ chief strategist, the Venezuelan JJ Rendón, was forced to step down after a drug lord accused him of mediating in a move to hand over several drug traffickers to the authorities in 2011, a job that allegedly earned him $12 million. Just a day later, the Sepúlveda scandal broke.

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