Scandal Threatens Stability of Colombia’s First Leftist Government

Senator Armando Benedetti campaigns for Colombian President Gustavo Petro

They took her [the nanny] to the Casa de Nariño, that is, to the Presidential Palace, for the polygraphy part.

A scandal has engulfed the administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, threatening his reform agenda.[i] Petro’s campaign allegedly accepted illegal campaign contributions, including narcotics money from the Maduro regime in Venezuela. The scandal emerged when Colombia’s leading weekly magazine, Semana, reported on an incident of cash being stolen from the home of Petro’s chief of staff, Laura Sarabia. Sarabia suspected her nanny of the theft, subjecting her to a coerced polygraph test and illegally wiretapping her phone, according to the outlet. Simultaneously, Semana has a recording in which Armando Benedetti, former senator and, until recently, Colombia’s Ambassador to Venezuela, discusses breaching campaign finance limits with Laura Sarabia and hints at dirty money in the Petro campaign. According to the article in the Argentine newspaper Clarín, a lieutenant colonel who was part of the illegal wiretapping and polygraph scheme to recover the stolen money was found dead, fueling speculations of potential foul play, although the death has been ruled a suicide.

The allegations against Petro, exacerbated by the president’s own obfuscation, are likely to pose the most serious challenge that Petro’s government has faced. The inability to adequately counter these accusations will impact the government’s stability and could even lead to Petro’s impeachment. As a result of these accusations, it is likely that Petro’s planned reforms—such as his proposal for “total peace” with guerrilla groups and criminal organizations[ii]—will stall in the country’s congress.[iii]


“‘El presidente falta a la verdad:’ Fiscalía General: Duro choque con Petro por inspección judicial en caso de la exniñera de Laura Sarabia (“The president is not telling the truth:” Attorney General’s Office: Hard clash with Petro for judicial inspection in the case of Laura Sarabia’s ex-nanny),” Semana (Colombia’s leading weekly magazine), 30 May 2023. 

They took her [the nanny] to the Casa de Nariño, that is, to the Presidential Palace, for the polygraphy part… During the time she was there, they never gave her access to a lawyer, despite the fact that they were accusing her of having committed a crime, and they also kept her incommunicado…When they did the polygraph, the Police told her that she was a thief and that she should return the money. The boss said that if she spent part of the money that nothing happened, and that she should return the rest.

“Crece el escándalo por una supuesta trama de corrupción en Colombia y Gustavo Petro sale a defenderse (The scandal grows over an alleged corruption plot in Colombia and Gustavo Petro comes out to defend himself),” Clarín (largest Argentine newspaper with excellent regional coverage), 15 June 2023. 

The money stolen from Sarabia’s house, which gave rise to a scandal in the government, was allegedly Petro’s, there were five suitcases and 3,000 million pesos (about $718,000)…the scandal led to the resignation of Sarabia and the ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, who was the one who allegedly leaked what happened to the press…In another twist to the crisis, police lieutenant colonel Óscar Dávila, assigned to presidential security and involved in the interrogation and illegal interceptions of Meza [the nanny], was found dead.


[i] For more information on the scandal itself from one of Colombia’s most respected political scientists, see: Sergio Guzmán, “Gustavo Petro’s Biggest Crisis Yet,” Americas Quarterly, 5 June 2023.

[ii] OE Watch has covered Petro’s political and security reforms in several different articles. For example, see: Ryan Berg, “Colombia’s Gustavo Petro Promises New Approach to Security and Drugs,” OE Watch, 10-2022.

[iii] OE Watch has covered Petro’s plans for and the prospects of Total Peace extensively. For more information, see: Ryan Berg, “Colombia’s Congress Authorizes ‘Total Peace’ Negotiation With Guerrilla and Criminal Groups,” OE Watch, 1-2023,

Image Information:

Image:  Senator Armando Benedetti campaigns for Colombian President Gustavo Petro 
Attribution: CC-BY-SA 4.0