BOGOTA – A man arrested for conducting a clandestine cyber-espionage operation targeting the Colombian government’s negotiations with leftist guerrillas will remain in custody pending trial, a judge ordered Wednesday.
Andres Felipe Sepulveda was detained Tuesday when agents from the Attorney General’s Office raided two office buildings on Bogota’s north side in an operation to shut down the illegal spying.
Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre revealed Wednesday that Sepulveda formerly worked for the presidential campaign of Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a political ally of former head of state Alvaro Uribe.
Zuluaga has emerged as the most serious threat to incumbent Juan Manuel Santos’ bid for a second term in the May 25 elections.
Sepulveda’s aim was “to sabotage” the Santos administration’s peace talks in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the attorney general said.
Besides intercepting the communications of FARC leaders with their representatives to the negotiations in Havana, Sepulveda spied on former Sen. Piedad Cordoba, according to Montealegre, who said investigators suspect the spy operation also targeted Santos.
Sepulveda denies any wrongdoing.
Anyone found to have received illicitly obtained information from Sepulveda will also face charges, the attorney general said.
“Mr. Sepulveda carried out typical intelligence tasks as if he were a member of the public force: analysis, exchange of information and monitoring,” Montealegre said, calling the case the “tip of the iceberg of the black market for information.”
Authorities have no evidence of “any relationship” between Sepulveda’s illegal spying and the Zuluaga campaign, the attorney general said.
The focus of the investigation is now on who might have assisted Sepulveda and the identity of those who paid him roughly 100 million pesos ($50,000) for the information he obtained, Montealegre said.
The discovery of Sepulveda’s spy operation comes three months after newsweekly Semana exposed a covert military intelligence scheme to monitor government and rebel delegates to the peace talks as well as journalists covering the negotiations.
Two army generals were cashiered in the wake of those revelations and a subsequent probe determined that unknown individuals had intercepted at least two of Santos’ e-mails.
Launched in November 2012, the negotiations between the government and the FARC are aimed at ending the longest-running armed conflict in Latin America.
The FARC and others have accused Uribe of being behind the spying operations.
Uribe, a hardliner who governed from 2002 to 2010, vowed during his presidency to defeat the rebels militarily if they did not give up their armed struggle.
He has been a fierce opponent of the peace process and accuses Santos – who was Uribe’s defense minister – of squandering eight years of military gains and elevating the FARC’s political stature.
Elected to the Senate in March, Uribe is backing Zuluaga against Santos in the presidential contest.