The New York Times
May 13, 2003

Two Men in Colombia Dip Into Leader's Lost Wallet


BOGOTÁ, Colombia, May 12 Two Colombian men found President Álvaro Uribe's lost wallet last week and went on a spree, using his credit card to withdraw $4,225 before they were caught, the government said today.

Mr. Uribe, who is being tracked by a United States satellite to protect him from assassination attempts by Marxist guerrillas, lost his wallet during a visit to the northern city of Bucaramanga on Friday.

The two thieves found the wallet, containing the president's identification, his credit card and a note with the card's secret number.

They made withdrawals at 32 automatic teller machines, a government spokeswoman said.

When the president realized that he had lost his wallet, the next day, and was informed of "strange movements" in his bank account, the police began an extensive search.

The two men, whose identities were withheld, were arrested on Saturday in Bucaramanga with the $4,225 in cash and the president's wallet.

The spokeswoman said Mr. Uribe must have dropped the wallet when he removed his jacket to have his picture taken with a group of children.

On being informed of the arrests, Mr. Uribe whose campaign slogan was "Firm Hand, Big Heart" decided not to press charges and asked the police to set the men free.

"They are poor people," the spokeswoman quoted him as saying. "We have to give them a second chance."

He reclaimed the cash, however.