Their arrests come months after Vásquez, who separated from Nicolás Petro following an alleged affair with one of her former friends, accused Nicolás Petro of using funds donated to his father’s presidential campaign to support a lavish lifestyle, Vásquez told Semana magazine in a March interview. Gustavo Petro was unaware of his son’s actions, according to Vásquez.
“The money never got to his [father’s] campaign,” Vásquez told Semana in Spanish.
Nicolás Petro denied that he had misused any funds from the campaign in a statement issued after the Semana story was published, and said he’d cooperate with authorities.
The arrest of the Colombian president’s son also comes weeks after leaked audio messages implicated the president’s chief of staff and his ambassador to Venezuela in possible campaign finance violations. Gustavo Petro fired both individuals after Colombia’s attorney general launched a probe into the matter.
All eyes are on Gustavo Petro following these scandals, putting the Colombian leader with declining approval ratings in damage control, political analysts told The Washington Post. The events will also test the independence of the Colombian justice system, considered to be among the strongest in a region plagued by corruption, analysts said.
“This is the tip of a very big iceberg that will become a very long investigation in this presidency,” Sergio Guzmán, director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy group, told The Post. “Not only is his credibility on the line but the attorney general’s credibility is also on the line.”
In a March interview with the news outlet Cambio Colombia, Gustavo Petro, who has been married three times, said he had limited involvement in Nicolás’s parenting. “I did not raise him,” the president told Cambio. “That’s the reality.”
Following the arrest of his son and Vásquez, the president said he’d let the investigation run its course, further distancing himself from the matter.
“That one of my children has to go through jail hurts,” Gustavo Petro said Saturday in a Spanish statement. “As the president, I can assure the attorney general’s office that they have all the avenues on my end to proceed according to the law.”
The Colombian president also pledged not to interfere in the attorney general’s probe, “nor pressure his decisions.”
“To my son, I wish him luck and strength. May these events forge his character and I hope he can reflect about his own mistakes,” Gustavo Petro added.
A spokesman for Gustavo Petro declined to comment when reached by The Post on Saturday, referring to the president’s online statement. Attorneys representing Nicolás Petro did not immediately respond to messages. It is unclear who is representing Vásquez as of late Saturday.
Gustavo Petro has spent his political career lambasting corruption and the influence of narcotrafficking in politics, Guzmán said, and so far, there’s no evidence of his involvement in his son’s alleged activities.
“We still have no evidence of Petro’s direct involvement. Right now, Petro is in damage control mode trying to isolate the issue around his son. It’s very much a president that doesn’t want this scandal to involve him,” Guzmán said. “A lot of people are saying ‘It’s impossible that Gustavo Petro didn’t know what his son was up to.’ Those are the kinds of things that will take time to be resolved.”