Drug Role In Colombia Vote Confirmed -- U.S. Congress Is Told CIA Knew Election Winner Got Cartel Cash
WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration independently has confirmed allegations that Colombian President-elect Ernesto Samper received millions of dollars in campaign donations from the Cali cocaine cartel, senior U.S. officials said yesterday.
"It's true, all of it," a top U.S. official said, when asked about the charges, which have cast a pall over Samper's narrow runoff victory over challenger Andres Pastrana on Sunday.
The charges, which could produce a wrenching rift with Colombia and undermine U.S. anti-narcotics efforts, were presented as fact in a CIA briefing to Congress on the eve of the presidential vote.
"(Samper) not only received the money, he solicited it," said one congressional source who attended the briefing.
In a statement released to reporters in Bogota yesterday, Samper's campaign "affirmed categorically that the treasury did not take in any resources of dubious origin."
Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, whose tough stance against drug traffickers succeeded in breaking the back of the violent Medellin Cartel, ordered a probe yesterday after Colombian newscasts aired the allegations against Samper, a lawyer and economist who once served as Gaviria's development minister.
Robert Gelbard, the top U.S. anti-narcotics diplomat, confronted Samper more than eight months ago with reports that the Colombian had received at least $6 million from the drug cartel, which controls about 80 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States, officials said.
Gelbard, who testified on drug policy before a panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, said the administration is "investigating this very intensively right now," he said.
News of Samper's alleged drug ties erupted in Colombia on Tuesday night, when TV newscasts began broadcasting tape recordings of reputed conversations among two of the Cali cartel's top leaders, the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, and a journalist linked to the cartel, Alberto Giraldo.
In the tapes, three men can be heard discussing Samper's need for millions of dollars in campaign money.
The origin of the cassette tape is not clear, but it was made public by Pastrana after his defeat Sunday. One State Department official expressed disappointment yesterday that Pastrana had failed to go public with the tape in time to affect the results of the runoff vote.
"We were hoping it would come out in the press before the vote," said the official, who confirmed the U.S. view that it is authentic.
U.S. diplomats said they are now studying how to proceed with the Colombian president-elect. They did not rule out the possibility of imposing sanctions against the new government.
Gelbard also said the U.S. military expects to resume sharing radar data on suspected drug traffickers with Colombia and Peru that had been suspended because of fears the U.S. would be held liable for sharing radar data used in shooting down suspected drug traffickers.
Under an interim agreement, the Andean countries will not use the intelligence to shoot down suspected smugglers. In return, President Clinton has promised to seek a change in U.S. law and later lift the shoot-down restriction, Gelbard said.
Clinton on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would free the U.S. military from criminal liability The measure would amend U.S. anti-terrorism laws.
That answered the key concern of the Pentagon, which cut off the data May 1 because it worried that U.S. officers might be prosecuted under those laws.
Pentagon policymakers stopped sharing data from airborne and ground-based Andean radar despite a strong protest from the State Department, which argued that the move punished two countries that had stepped up anti-drug efforts. Colombia later retaliated by banning U.S. intelligence flights over the country. Information from the Dallas Morning News is included in this report.
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