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Accused mayor of Colombia's capital sent to jail

Sep 23, 2011, 2:01 p.m.
Suspended Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno attends a court hearing in Bogota September 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A judge jailed the suspended mayor of Colombia's capital, Bogota, on Friday while he is on trial on charges he took bribes to award public works contracts.

Federal prosecutors in May suspended leftist Samuel Moreno from his post, viewed as the most powerful in Colombia after the presidency. They argued this week he was likely to flee if left free and could try to influence witnesses.

A group of businessmen jailed on related charges have told prosecutors the Miami-born Moreno and his brother demanded money in exchange for contracts including the expansion of a highway connecting Bogota to its airport.

"He is likely involved in at least two crimes," Judge Jorge Polidoro said in a prepared statement. "The court orders his detention."

Moreno, who was expelled from his party this month, denies the charges, which include extortion. His brother Ivan Moreno, a former senator, is in jail awaiting trial on related charges and also says he is innocent.

Bogota, a city of 8 million people with an annual budget of almost $7 billion, has been choked in recent years by congested traffic and a stressed public transportation system.

The case against Moreno, who could face a 15-year prison term, underscores growing perceptions of corruption in Colombia's government.

Former officials have been involved in scandals in recent years, including giving agricultural subsidies to supporters, allegedly wiretapping opponents and killing civilians and then dressing them up as insurgents.

"There's too much corruption in politics. Nobody has values anymore and I don't want to vote because you can see everything that's happening," said Maria Serquedo, a 62-year-old office cleaner and Bogota resident.

Moreno has been temporarily replaced as mayor by Clara Lopez, a member of his former party.

Mayoral candidates are campaigning for election in October to a four-year term. Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla, is in a tight race against Enrique Penalosa, who was Bogota's mayor from 1998 to 2001 and is seen as an architect of the city's extensive public transit system.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Additional reporting by Julia Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

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