Aida Victoria Merlano, daughter of the ex-congresswoman Aida Merlano, enters the Paloquemao courts for a formal indictment hearing. Bogotá, March 3, 2020. (Photo: César Melgarejo/CEET GDA via AP Images)
The plan to break Instagram model Aída Victoria Merlano Manzanero’s mom out of prison involved using a rope to climb out of a window, a waiting motorcycle, and her 17-year-old brother. What could go wrong? A lot, apparently.The 22-year-old Colombian influencer, who’s known as Aída Victoria and has millions of followers on social media, was sentenced to more than seven years of house arrest on Tuesday for her role in planning her mother’s escape in 2019. The sentence is the latest twist in one of the strangest cases of political corruption in recent history and has captivated the South American country’s attention.
At the beginning, it seemed like a feel-good story.Aída Victoria’s mother, the similarly named Aída Merlano Rebolledo, appeared to have beaten the odds. In 2019, Merlano Rebolledo became a senator at only 38 years old after rising through the political ranks while raising two children as a single mom. But quickly after her election win, authorities discovered evidence of voter fraud, corruption, and illegal possession of weapons. Less than six months later, a court convicted Merlano Rebolledo of the charges and sentenced her to 15 years in a Colombian prison.While the scandal shocked onlookers, it was nothing compared to what happened next. Two weeks after being sentenced, Merlano Rebolledo escaped.The disgraced politician had left the Bogota prison with a security guard to attend a dentist appointment in October 2019. At one point, the guard left her alone in the examination room and she disappeared after fleeing out the window.Video footage of the escape taken from an outside camera showed a red rope hanging above the sidewalk with shocked onlookers gawking at Merlano Rebolledo as she apparently descended from a second-floor window. Suddenly, she appears in the frame, passes the red cord to a confused pedestrian, and hops on the back of a motorcycle driven by a man posing as a driver for the on-demand delivery app Rappi.
Merlano Rebolledo then fled to Venezuela, where she was eventually arrested three months later. She’s been fighting extradition ever since.
Suspicion in the escape plan quickly fell on Merlano Rebolledo’s children, and Aída Victoria in particular seemed to relish the attention. While her mother was on the run, Aída Victoria posed nude on the cover of a magazine, handcuffed, with the tagline “The Daughter of the Fugitive Congresswoman Confesses.”Soon after, in February 2020, authorities charged Aída Victoria as a potential accomplice in the crime. In the two-plus years that she waited for her trial, Aída Victoria became practically a household name in Colombia. She constantly posted photos online flaunting a luxurious lifestyle and became a fixture in the local tabloids.But the increased fame did not help her legally.Earlier this month, Aída Victoria was found guilty of facilitating the escape and the use of a minor in a crime.At the time of the escape, Aída Victoria was 19, while her brother, Esteban José Manzaneda, was 17. The duo visited their mother at the dentist office the day of the escape, and were allowed to be alone with her after Merlano Rebolledo made a scene, according to the security guard who testified at the trial.
Manzaneda arrived to the visit with a backpack, which was not searched. Prosecutors alleged that it contained the rope that Merlano Rebolledo used to escape. The judge determined that Aída Victoria asked her underage brother to participate in the escape plan, and both siblings distracted the guard while their mother fled.On September 13, Aída Victoria was sentenced to 90 months of house arrest, which will be served at her home in Barranquilla. Her lawyer said they intend to appeal. But even with the guilty verdict, Aída Victoria took to social media to express relief at the sentence of house arrest.“I’m going to spend Christmas with my family,” she posted with crying faces and heart emojis. “I thought that today I was going to sleep in a prison.”But while she may be somewhat satisfied with the sentence, Aída Victoria’s legal situation is far from settled. She is facing another pending case for alleged illicit enrichment and money laundering.