This Monday, February 24, the lower house of the Colombian Congress opened a preliminary investigation against Colombian President Iván Duque after accusations of corruption, electoral fraud and vote trafficking by former congresswoman Aída Merlano. The Chamber of Deputies’s decision came after a complaint filed against Duque a few days ago by Congressman David Racero of the left-wing alliance Decentes (the Decent Ones) in order to find out whether Merlano’s statements are true.
Likewise, the same day, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Héctor Alarcón, and the Attorney General of the Nation, Francisco Barbosa, announced they would initiate a separate investigation process to verify Merlano’s statements, who, in addition to Duque, accused several current and former congress members and police officers of the same. The investigations will seek to prove whether or not Duque and others politicians are responsible for the alleged crimes.
In addition, on February 22, the magistrate of the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Colombia, Luis Guillermo Perez, had requested the Deputy Secretary of the institution, Lena Hoyos, to begin an inquiry over electoral fraud allegations made against the head of the state as it questions the credibility and power of the CNE.
Last week, on February 17, Merlano, who is imprisoned in Venezuela, said in an interview with Colombian magazine Semana that businessman Julio Gerlein and former mayor of Barranquilla city, Alex Char, bought votes for Duque in the Atlantic Department to get him presidency in the second round of general elections in 2018. Merlano alleged that Duque was aware of this.
“Julio Gerlein and the Char family bought votes to elect Duque … The Chars directed all the traditional politicians to purchase votes for the election of the president … Everyone bought votes to elect Duque,” said Merlano, who is a member of the Conservative party with Julio Gerlein’s brother and former Senator, Roberto Gerlein.
The Gerlein and Char families are among the most powerful families in Colombia. Merlano said that they had invested 6,000 million pesos (1.8 million dollars approximately) in Duque’s campaign.
Merlano was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Colombia on corruption charges, but she fled the country in October 2019 while attending a medical appointment in Bogotá. She was arrested on January 27 by the officials of the Special Action Force (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) in Maracaibo, Venezuela and is currently being held in a prison in Caracas.
In the beginning of February, in a statement before the justice of Venezuela, Merlano accused Duque of wanting to assassinate her to silence her as she can reveal the network of corruption that exists in the country.
Following her arrest in Venezuela, Duque requested her extradition to Colombia to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, a widely ridiculed move given that Guaidó does not have the power to extradite. At the time of the request Merlano commented that, “They do not want me to be extradited, because if they wanted to, they would ask the legitimate president, Nicolás Maduro, and not Guaido. It is a political and diplomatic absurdity to request extradition to Guaidó.”