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TAPE, TV NEWS LINK CARTEL TO COLOMBIA RACE

SHARE TAPE, TV NEWS LINK CARTEL TO COLOMBIA RACE

Colombia's biggest drug cartel influenced the presidential race by contributing to President-elect Ernesto Samper's campaign, according to a tape of bugged conversations and TV news reports.

What is potentially the biggest political scandal in Colombian history broke open Tuesday night when TV newscasts broadcast portions of the audiotape.Three men - identified as leaders of the Cali cartel and another man linked to the drug gang - could be heard discussing contributing millions of dollars to political campaigns.

President Cesar Gaviria ordered the tape analyzed to verify if the voices belong to Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, two brothers who are alleged leaders of the Cali cartel, and Alberto Giraldo, a journalist linked to the cartel.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, Samper's campaign "affirmed categorically that the (campaign's) treasury did not take in any resources of dubious origin."

Samper urged an investigation and said if any of his campaign workers are implicated, they would be excluded from his government and would face possible criminal sanctions.

If authorities determine the tape is legitimate, it would indicate what U.S. drug agents have long feared - that Colombia's democracy has been undermined by the nation's powerful billionaire drug traffickers.

In the tape, the traffickers said Samper's campaign and "the other campaign" - presumably that of Andres Pastrana, the only other candidate in Sunday's election - accepted drug money, according to the TV reports. The newscasts did not broadcast that portion of the tape.

Another conversation seemed to imply the Pastrana campaign was offered, but refused money. The apparent contradiction was not explained.

Pastrana scheduled a press conference for Wednesday.

In the tape, a man identified by TV newscasts as Gilberto Rodriguez is heard saying: "How do you see this thing with Samper, man?"

"It's in your hands. That's curious, isn't it. . . . The reality is that they need 5 billion (pesos, equal to $6.2 million), of which they have acquired 2two. They need 3," says a voice identified as Giraldo's.

"Done. We have that," says Rodriguez.

Who made the tape is a mystery.

Pastrana said an unidentified person handed it to him a week ago while he was on a campaign trip in Cali.