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Latin America

Political consultant, JJ Rendon denies involvement in Mexican hacking allegations

Political consultant, JJ Rendon denies involvement in Mexican hacking allegations
1 Abr 2016 – 06:26 PM EDT
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El consultor político JJ Rendón. Crédito: David Adams

By David Adams @dadams7308

Hacking allegations against the 2012 presidential campaign of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, are pure “fantasy,” according to the Venezuelan political consultant accused of running an illegal digital dirty tricks operation tasked with manipulating the election.

The Miami-based consultant, Juan Jose (J.J.) Rendón, denied the accusations by a jailed Colombian hacker who confessed his role in Peña Nieto's campaign in a lengthy report published by published Thursday by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.

“None of the accusations have any basis,” Rendón told Univision in an exclusive interview. “It’s an invented story. He was never part of my team,” he added, interviewed in his 26 th floor luxury Miami apartment overlooking the ocean.

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¿J.J. Rendón trabajó para la campaña de Peña Nieto?

In statement, the Mexican government also denied “any relationship” with Sepúlveda and Rendón, adding that Peña Nieto’s victory stemmed exclusively from the “free informed support of the majority of the Mexican electorate.”

In the Bloomberg article Colombian hacker Andrés Sepúlveda, 31, claimed he was part of a team of hackers who "stole campaign strategies, manipulated social networks to create false feelings of excitement and derision and installed spyware n opposition offices," to help Peña Nieto, then the candidate of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). He went on to win the election.

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Un pirata cibernético espió a los rivales de Enrique Peña Nieto en 2012

Sepúlveda said he was paid $600,000 to penetrate and sabotage the campaigns of Peña Nieto’s opponents; Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD)) and Josefina Vazquez Mota of the National Action Party (PAN)

A veteran of numerous elections in Latin America, Rendón is a highly successful political strategist who has faced controversy in the past. He was forced to leave the campaign for the re-election of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in 2014 after he was accused of receiving $12 million from drug cartels, a charge he denies.

Sepúlveda's story was so unbelievable it read like the popular science fiction TV series i-Robot, starring Will Smith. "They didn't even have the decency to put on a more realistic show," he said.

Rendón has worked for a number of politicians in Mexico over more than a decade, but he declined to say if he was hired by the Peña Nieto campaign, citing confidentiality agreements with his clients.

Rendón said he barely knew Sepúlveda but had once worked on a campaign with him in 2005, and later hired him to do non-campaign-related work on the website of his Bogota office. Rendon added that Sepúlveda's wife had worked for him at one time as an account manager.

Rendón recalled once seeing Sepúlveda at a campaign meeting for the U Party of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe in Bogota in 2005. “He was a low level campaign worker, he was sitting at the back of the room. I didn’t meet with him or have coffee with him, I don’t think I even shook his hand,” he said.

In the Bloomberg report, titled “How to Hack an Election,” Sepúlveda said he was hired by Rendon to lead a team that installed malware in the routers of Mexico’s leftist opposition candidate to tap the campaign’s cellphones and computer network. The hacker also used thousands of fake social media profiles and Twitter bots to manipulate social media trends, he told Bloomberg.

Sepúlveda alleged he was able to obtain opponents’ campaign records, including schedules and drafts of upcoming campaign speeches. In the article he described using false passports and encryption devices to work clandestinely under the direction of Rendón, working n campaigns in eight Latin American countries over the past five years.

He said he was ordered to destroy all records of his dirty campaign work, including phones, hard drivers and documents.

“My job was to do actions of dirty war and psychological operations, black propaganda, rumors — the whole dark side of politics that nobody knows exists but everyone can see,” he told Bloomberg.

Sepúlveda is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Colombia on charges of using malicious software, violation of personal data and espionage.

Sepúlveda’s story is largely unsubstantiated, though Bloomberg said it had seen emails, screen shots, files and computer coding that appear to back some of his claims.

“Some of Sepúlveda’s descriptions of his actions match published accounts of events during various election campaigns, but other details couldn’t be independently verified,” Bloomberg reported.

Rendón contended it was suspiciously convenient that Sepulveda had destroyed all the records. “How perfect!” he exclaimed.

Rendón said he was planning to sue Bloomberg for damages, accusing the reporters of unprofessional journalism. He said he planned to prove he was never in some of the countries, including Guatemala and Nicaragua, where he was alleged to have conspired with Sepulveda.

“I have passport and airline records that can prove I was never there,” he said.

The Bloomberg stories contained numerous other inaccuracies about him, said Rendón, who practices Buddhism and has a large collection of samurai swords in his home.

Guests are required to remove their shoes before crossing his threshold. The Bloomberg article described him as a having a fleet of luxury cars. "Anyone who knows anything about me knows I don't like cars and I don't drive," he said. "I use Uber."

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