Judge grants conditional freedom for son of Colombian president

Son of Colombian president Gustavo Petro, Nicolas Petro attends a hearing in Bogota

Defendant and son of Colombian president Gustavo Petro, Nicolas Petro attends a hearing in Bogota, Colombia August 3, 2023 in this screengrab taken from a handout video. Colombian Prosecutor’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

BOGOTA, Aug 4 (Reuters) – A judge late on Friday granted Nicolas Petro, the eldest son of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, conditional freedom while he faces money laundering and illicit enrichment charges connected to financing for his father’s campaign.

Petro, 37, was arrested last weekend in the city of Barranquilla with his ex-wife, Daysuris del Carmen Vasquez, who is being held on similar charges.

Prosecutor Mario Burgos told a Thursday hearing that Petro, who resigned as a lawmaker in Atlantico province, had said illegal money entered his father’s 2022 election campaign, that it exceeded legal limits and was not fully reported to electoral authorities.

The president has denied awareness of any illegal activities and said he will continue with his administration’s policy plans, but the scandal could hamper his pursuit of peace or surrender deals with armed groups and an ambitious reform agenda, which was already facing challenges amid the breakdown of the government’s prior congressional coalition.

Judge Omar Leonardo Beltran ordered Nicolas Petro not to leave his city of residence, Barranquilla, but rejected a request from the attorney general’s office to impose house arrest, which had been supported by the defense.

“The request for the imposition of a security measure is also accepted … but for non-custodial measures,” the judge ruled.

According to the charges, Nicolas Petro received money from accused drug traffickers in exchange for including them in the president’s peace plans.

He has pleaded not guilty but said he would collaborate with prosecutors, who accuse him of buying properties valued at $394,000 with money that did not come from his salary.

Collaboration may lead to a reduction in Petro’s possible sentence, which could be between 12 and 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Beltran also decided that Vasquez would remain free while facing charges of money laundering and violation of personal data. Testimony in the proceedings depicted a web of passion, betrayal and corruption in which Petro was unfaithful to Vasquez during their marriage with her best friend, who is now expecting his child.

The president said he was personally pained to hear allegations of campaign irregularities.

“No one can be above the law and justice must be applied in an impartial way, with due process and all constitutional guarantees,” he said in a statement posted on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

His government will continue its agenda, added Petro, who was part of the M-19 guerrilla group and came to prominence as a lawmaker noted for impassioned speeches on corruption by right-wing paramilitary groups and their political allies.

“Nothing and no one can stop the fight of an entire life against all forms of corruption, and the government will continue, without distraction, its work and commitment for a better Colombia,” the president said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Nelson Bocanegra, additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Oliver Griffin; Editing by Alistair Bell and William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Luis Jaime has worked at Reuters for more than 30 years. While he chiefly covers Colombia’s armed conflict and the fight against drug trafficking from capital Bogotá, he also reports on politics, human rights, corruption, sports and the coffee industry, as well as companies in the energy and mining sectors. Before joining Reuters, he worked for Colombia’s Caracol Radio network for five years.
Contact: +573102107084

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