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Colombian president Gustavo Petro’s son has been arrested on money laundering charges amid an election finance scandal that threatens to undermine the South American country’s first leftist government.

Nicolás Petro, who has been the subject of a probe into alleged campaign finance irregularities since March, was arrested at 6am on Saturday, the attorney-general’s office said. He was charged with illicit enrichment.

President Petro, who took office last year on a platform that included a tough line on corruption, expressed regret over his son’s arrest but pledged to respect the independence of the investigation.

“As an individual and father, it pains me to see so much self-destruction and one of my sons going to jail,” he said on Twitter. “The prosecution has guarantees from me to proceed in accordance with the law. I wish my son luck and strength. May these occurrences forge his character and may he reflect on his own errors.”

Nicolás Petro’s ex-wife Daysuris del Carmen Vásquez was arrested on Saturday, too. In March she told local media that Nicolás Petro — also a politician — had last year arranged donations to his father’s campaign from individuals accused of drug trafficking.

At the time Nicolás Petro denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations “unfounded and harmful”, while his father welcomed the investigation and said he did not have in-depth knowledge of his son’s activities.

The attorney-general’s office said on Saturday that prosecutors would seek the provisional detention of both Nicolás Petro and Vásquez after they had been brought before a judge in Bogotá.

Opposition politician Miguel Uribe Turbay said that the president “must assume responsibility” for the campaign financing scandal. “This arrest is evidence of Petro’s deception and confirms a deal in which he sold impunity for political and economic support,” he said.

Petro’s government has also been rattled by a bizarre scandal involving his former chief of staff Laura Sarabia and Armando Benedetti, a former campaign manager and ambassador to Venezuela, over allegations of wiretapping a former nanny.

Saturday’s arrests were made as Petro — who in his youth was a member of the now-defunct leftist-nationalist M-19 guerrilla group — struggles to push his sweeping reform agenda through Congress. Proposals that would expand the government’s role in health and pension provision are both after lawmakers last month shelved a bill to overhaul labour laws and reduce working hours. 

In April Petro, frustrated by the stuttering progress, declared that hisgoverning coalition had broken down and reshuffled his cabinet, ousting the respected investor-friendly finance minister José Antonio Ocampo. He was replaced by Ricardo Bonilla, a Petro ally.

Investors have responded positively to Petro’s struggles, with the peso gaining more than 20 per cent on the dollar this year, outperforming most emerging market currencies. Yields on the country’s bonds have lowered in recent weeks.

“This scandal doesn’t help the government’s reforms,” said Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a Bogotá-based consultancy. “It will give lawmakers opposed to Petro more leverage.”

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