The Brother of Colombia’s ‘Anti-Corruption’ President Accused of Taking Cartel Bribes

President Gustavo Petro was elected on an anti-graft message but now his son and brother are being investigated for corruption.
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Less than a year after taking office with a mandate to root out corruption, leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro is dealing with corruption allegations against members of his immediate family. Both his son and his brother have come under fire recently for alleged improper behavior, leading President Petro himself to ask prosecutors to investigate his family members last week.


Colombia’s Attorney General’s office released a statement saying that it was looking into accusations that the president’s son, Nicolás Petro, kept donations to his father’s presidential campaign for his own personal use. 

The prosecutors also announced last week that they opened an investigation in January into President Petro’s brother, Juan Fernando Petro, following allegations he may have been involved with a network of lawyers and organizations linked to the government’s ongoing peace negotiations who is accused of accepting money from drug traffickers wanted for extradition. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations against Nicolás Petro came to light after his ex-wife, Day Vásquez, gave a video interview with Colombian magazine Semana. In that interview, she said he received more than $200,000 worth of campaign contributions, without his father’s knowledge. The payments, Vásquez claimed, came from a number of people, including a former drug trafficker who spent time behind bars in the U.S. and a businessman who allegedly has connections to organized crime.

Days after the interview, the president tweeted a statement that said “my government will not grant benefits to criminals in exchange for bribes.”


“My commitment to Colombia and to Colombian men and women is to achieve peace and whoever wants to interfere in that purpose, or take personal advantage of it, has no place in the government, even if they are members of my family,” wrote Petro. “I trust that my brother and my son can prove their innocence but I will respect the conclusions reached by justice.”

While some lauded Petro for publicly asking for the investigation of his family members, Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, told VICE World News that it was “not necessarily deserved.”

Guzmán noted how during Petro’s former daughter-in-law’s interview with Semana, she claimed that she’d already met privately with the president to detail the allegations against his son in early February. But President Petro only chose to publicly ask for an investigation after Vásquez went public with her claims last week. In addition, the allegations against Petro’s brother were first published in the Colombian press last year and the investigation into him began in January, well before the president’s recent statement.

“These investigations were going to happen or have been happening,” said Guzmán. “For Petro, it’s self-serving, asking for an investigation now and then saying: look how transparent I am.”


President Petro’s comments last week came a day after a poll that showed that his approval rating dropped to an all time low of 40 percent after a string of political embarrassments. Since mid-February, members of his cabinet publicly rebuked his new health care reform bill, his attempt to cut electricity tariffs was blocked by a local court, and dozens of police were kidnapped by protestors and held hostage for several days, making international headlines.

Petro entered office in August 2022 promising to be a more progressive leader than the country’s previous conservative president. But the allegations against his family members were direct blows to two of Petro’s principal campaign promises: fighting corruption and lowering violence through the government’s “total peace” initiative that involves negotiations with drug traffickers and guerrilla groups to lay down their arms. 

The accusations against President Petro’s brother, Juan Fernando, are particularly troublesome, and include allegations that he, and/or associates, met with imprisoned Colombian gangsters and accepted money to potentially allow them to join the peace process and avoid extradition to the U.S. 

The Colombian government reiterated Thursday that Danilo Rueda, the country’s Peace Commissioner, is the only representative of the government authorized to contact the groups during negotiations.

Guzmán worried that the latest scandals and Petro’s plummeting approval ratings could spell disaster for the peace negotiations “because these groups are not going to want to negotiate with a president that's unpopular. Congress is not going to want to side with a president that's unpopular.”

“That's going to begin weighing more heavily on the mind of President Petro as he progresses in these negotiations,” said Guzmán.

Colombia’s government began its current peace process with the country’s guerrilla groups in 2012, under the then-President Juan Manuel Santos. While some guerrilla groups like factions of the FARC agreed to the process in 2016, other factions and groups like the E.L.N. did not. Some of those groups moved towards more criminal enterprises like drug trafficking and people smuggling. 

Petro pledged to reenage the groups who remained outside of the previous peace deal when he took office last summer and work towards creating a new agreement that would allow them to lay down their weapons and reincorporate into Colombian society.