Armando Benedetti and Laura SarabiaAndrea Hernández Briceño
In the corridors of the Casa de Nariño, the presidential residence, a conspiracy story has been woven these weeks that is on its way to becoming a national scandal. The entanglement involves two of the people closest to Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who are beginning to pile up internal troubles. On the one hand, his chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, right hand and rising figure of his Government with only 29 years. On the other, Armando Benedetti, the politician who guided him in the campaign to power and who is now ambassador in Caracas. Benedetti and Sarabia were intimate until recently. He was her boss and was the one who introduced her to the president, which gave him access to that very important position. Today both have entered a war that has forced Petro to intervene as if he were a father.
Sarabia's name had been in the press for several days because of a case with domestic dyes that ended up in the Palace. The caregiver of her son, Marelbys Meza, had been subjected in January to the polygraph in the Presidency of Colombia after the disappearance in the house of the official of a briefcase with several thousand dollars. The nanny told Semana magazine that she felt intimidated and pressured by a theft she said she had not committed. The worker reported what she considered harassment to the Prosecutor's Office, which decided to protect her. Sarabia defended himself and assured that the presidential protection headquarters and the Police acted according to the protocols established by law. It seemed that everything was going to stay there, but the story took a turn.
The journalist Daniel Coronell has published this Wednesday in W Radio that the current ambassador in Venezuela would be behind the controversy. Coronell assures that sources close to Sarabia accuse Benedetti of blackmailing her with this matter. The nanny would have already worked with the politician and his family previously, and at that time she was subjected to polygraph for a robbery at the home of her bosses, which resulted in her being the author of the theft. A few weeks ago, before the scandal became known, Benedetti transferred Meza on a private flight to Caracas, where the nanny remained for several days, until on her return to Colombia she gave the interview to Semana.
The information also reveals that a day before publication, the ambassador met with the director of that magazine, Vicky Dávila, and then sent a message to Sarabia: "I just spoke with Vicky (sic) after what you told me about Mari (...) You were right. It is possible that such a circumstance can be avoided (sic)... I hope you understand the meaning of this message!" Sarabia read it as blackmail.
The ambassador maintains that there is no threat in his message. He defends that in principle he acted to help Sarabia, who asked for his mediation after the nanny allegedly spoke to several media on her own, without her mediation. "It's the other way around: Laura Sarabia is looking for me and what I do is hire her [the nanny]. By that time, the problem for Sarabia is that the amount of money or cash flow that was in his house was revealed," Benedetti said on Twitter. What he does acknowledge is having participated in the end: "I was only complicit in the end, with great pleasure."
The amount of money Sarabia kept in his house is also a matter of debate. According to Sarabia, someone stole $ 7,000 that she justified as travel expenses for official trips and so she reported it to the Prosecutor's Office. Benedetti, in his Twitter thread, goes so far as to talk about more than $30,000 in cash. "Why (sic) did he have 150 million pesos in a suitcase, facts that are being investigated? (sic)," the ambassador asked, leaving in the air the doubt of the origin of his former subordinate's money.
Details that @DCoronell did not do after I had spoken with him for more than an hour: @laurisarabia called me on April 17 at 1 p.m. to tell me that she was worried because Marelbys was in contact with several journalists, and asked me to help him.
— Armando Benedetti (@AABenedetti) May 31, 2023
In the midst of this scandal involving two of his closest people, Petro has decided to intervene. Although he is in Brazil these days participating in the South American summit, the president has summoned Benedetti on Thursday to discuss the matter as soon as he lands in Bogota. Throughout this morning, the Presidency has disseminated images from Brazil in which Sarabia is seen next to Petro. Meanwhile, Benedetti seeks his defense on social networks: "It is very clear that I did not build any conspiracy. It is Marelbyss, through a friend, who begins to look for the media. My "sin" is knowing that it was going to be published and I was silent. Because of the veracity and gravity of the facts, there was no way to stop it." It remains to be seen if Petro gives him absolution.
In an interview-profile made by EL PAÍS, Sarabia recognized Benedetti as his mentor. "With him I learned everything. He is a political fox, a complex person. I learned to have leather," she said of him. "Together they toured the country from end to end, they started walking 24/7. They competed in a Senate election in which Benedetti was elected. Mixing two such distinct souls was successful," the text reads. Then Benedetti and Sarabia joined Petro, were his shadow during the electoral campaign and accompanied him to the very door of success. They were then three friends who conquered power together. The triangle has now been broken and given the accusations that are launched one and the other seems impossible to recompose. Petro has a house fire.
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