By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Former Senator Aida Merlano said powerful political families in Colombia bought votes to get president Ivan Duque elected in the 2018 elections.
Merlano made the claims that well-known businessman Julio Gerlein and the Char family invested a large amount of money in Duque's presidential campaign against left wing candidate Gustavo Petro.
“Julio bought votes for Duque. The Char [family] also bought votes for Duque,” she said Monday in an interview with Semana magazine from Venezuela. “ Julio told me to calm down, that things were going to be okay because he owed Duque some favors," said Merlano, who was sentenced to 15 years by the Supreme Court for election fraud two weeks before she escaped to Venezuela last year.
During the interview, the former lawmaker said Gerlein invested $600 million pesos (US$1.8 million) in Duque´s presidential campaign.
In October 2019, Merlano escaped from a dental office in Bogota and in January was recaptured in Maracaibo by Venezuelan authorities. She was later transferred to Caracas, where she talked about Duque´s alleged plan to assassinate her.
“For those who think I lied in regards to my assertions that he [Duque] wanted to kill me or was colluding with people who wanted to kill me, I am not lying and I have the evidence to prove it,” she said.
Merlano´s claims have fueled heated debates between Duque’s political allies and opposition leaders on social media.
Senator Gustavo Petro said the Gerlein and Char families, among the most powerful economic groups in Colombia, spent more money buying votes for Duque illegally than the amount he spent on his campaign.
“Where did the funds of Gerlein and Char come from? From corruption; that is how Duque got elected,” said Petro in a twitter post Monday.
On the other side of the political spectrum, members of the president's party came to his defense, denying there were third party contributions to the campaign.
"Once again the regime of Nicolas Maduro seeks to smear president Duque´s name and to attack with fallacies a political campaign like few others: decent and transparent," Senator Maria del Rosario Guerra tweeted.
Merlano thanked the Maduro's government for the “dignified’ treatment she said she received in Venezuela and said that asking opposition leader Juan Guaido for her extradition is an indication that the Colombian government has no interest in having her return to Colombia.
"They do not want me to be extradited, because if they wanted to, they would ask the legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro, and not Guaido. It is a political and diplomatic absurdity to request extradition to Guaido," she said.