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Colombia chief of staff, ambassador leave posts amid phone intercept scandal

2023 south american summit
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro gestures as he leaves the South American Summit at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil May 30, 2023. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The chief of staff for Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the country’s ambassador in Venezuela will leave their posts, Petro said on Friday, as the prosecutor’s office probes accusations of illegal phone intercepts of domestic staff.

Laura Sarabia, one of Petro’s closest advisors, and ambassador Armando Benedetti, who was key to Petro’s election and Sarabia’s boss when Benedetti was a senator, have been entangled in a scandal involving missing money and her child’s nanny.

“While they investigate my dear and valued official and the ambassador in Venezuela, they will withdraw from the government,” Petro said at a military event, noting the effort was meant to ensure full confidence in the investigation.

Sarabia reported in January that some $4,000 had been taken from her apartment in northern Bogota, attorney general Francisco Barbosa said late on Thursday, and afterward her son’s nanny was taken to the presidential palace, where she was given a polygraph test and questioned about the funds.

The nanny, Marelbys Meza, who spoke to a local magazine for a cover story about the incident, has denied any wrongdoing.

The police wrongly intercepted phone calls by Meza and another woman who cleaned Sarabia’s home, Barbosa’s office said in a statement on Friday.

Barbosa, who has repeatedly clashed with Petro over the president’s efforts to make peace and surrender deals with leftist rebels and crime gangs, said some people may face charges in the coming days over the missing money, the polygraph incident and the “grotesque” interceptions.

Sarabia said on Twitter she had acted correctly and was willing to contribute any information needed to clarify what occurred and defend her reputation.

Benedetti is accused of leaking the story to the media, but he has denied that accusation, saying that though he knew the story was being published, it was Meza who sought out journalists.

He said in a resignation letter posted to Twitter it had been an honor to serve as ambassador.

Petro’s approval rating fell to 33.8% in a survey by Invamer published on Friday, from 50% late last year.

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