Embattled Colombian Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora only has one defense for sexual harassment allegations made against his former secretary: he fell in love.
Journalist Daniel Coronell revealed photos, documents, and screenshots of conversations that showed how Otálora harassed his former personal secretary Astrid Helena Cristancho, a lawyer and former Miss Cundinamarca title holder.
Otálora has been sending Cristancho lewd photos and suggestive text messages and, at one point, even pimped her out to one of his colleagues.
“I had a relationship with her. I fell in love with a very intelligent person whom I shared important things in my life. She was so important that I even thought of us having a child,” Otálora told Colombia’s Caracol News on Sunday.
According to Coronell’s column at Semana, the “relationship” started with Otálora’s dinner invitations and engagements outside of work, asking Cristancho to deliver documents to his house, latenight calls, and suggestive images.
Coronell reported that Otálora sent two photos to Cristancho: the first, a selfie of the ombudsman at his home in Bogotá and another more explicit photo.
“I respectfully ask you to please refrain from making any more personal comments. It is important that we maintain a strictly professional relationship,” Cristancho told Otálora in a text message. During the same conversation, Otálora tried to get Cristancho to deliver a speech to his house, to which the latter declined.
“I asked her [Cristancho] why she did not report the incidents. Her answer is the same with thousands of people who have been subjected to abuse by their bosses: she was afraid,” Coronell wrote.
“The relationship that existed was only of abuse, threats, fear, insults, and manipulation. He wants to hide all of these by saying that there was love. That’s not true,” said Cristancho.
She has already filed a complaint on Monday with the Attorney General, confident that the truth will emerge, thanks to witness statements.
“I have witnesses, men and women, who have seen the abuse. I have evidence of cases of women who said that the same thing happened to them, but did not report because of fear. He is a powerful person who has lots of money,” she added.
In Coronell’s column, Cristancho confirmed that she was sexually abused for two years before finally leaving office.
But Otálora insists on love, saying that the photos were taken out of context.
“The photographs are the result of trust in a relationship between a couple who spent very nice moments. I will provide evidence, I have witnesses who frequent the restaurants where we ate,” the Ombudsman said.
In September 2015, journalist Juan Diego Restrepo first reported the abuse experienced by Otálora’s employees. Although not the first one, the most “notorious” resignation of a top official was that of deputy ombudsman Juan Manuel Osorio.
Osorio wrote on his resignation letter dated August 11, 2015 that he can no longer tolerate the disrespect, screaming, profanity, and general mistreatment of the managers and employees of the Office of the Ombudsman.
“This affected my dignity, motivation, positive attitude and, in general, my environment and welfare,” Osorio said.
“I loved my job that is why I endured this long. But my patience is limited and the episode last Tuesday, August 4 in your office, where once again I had to endure screams, insults, and disrespectful actions toward my references and my colleagues, was the last straw.”
Cristancho’s resignation letter on November 2015, obtained by Coronell, corroborated Osorio’s statements.
This time, Cristancho said that there was verbal and psychological violence, shouting, stomping, threats and tantrums from the beginning of her tenure as Otálora’s personal secretary. She added that the ombudsman had a bad temper and cannot control it.
“Today, more than two years, you never failed to abuse me. You shout inside and outside the office. It’s staggering, I was in constant fear all this time,” she wrote.
Coronell said that after the publication of Osorio and Cristancho’s resignation letters, Otálora invited senior executives to sign a statement stating that the allegations were false.
Otálora maintained that he doesn’t deal with his employees as Osorio and Cristancho state.
“I start my work every day at five in the morning. I work during weekends so I have people accompanying me. It makes me sad that many people do not go at the same pace because there are many people out there that depends on our visit, of our presence, our answers to their demands.”
Human rights groups, Senators from the Liberal Party and other government officials are now calling for Otálora’s resignation. But the politician maintains that despite the scandal, he will not resign.
“I think the situation is part of my personal life, an intimate relationship with a person. The issues did not compromise or put at stake the stability of the Institution. The Office’s ability to respond to to the public’s demands are not affected,” he said.
The Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation on Wednesday to shed more light on the matter.
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