- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2013

The Argentine woman at the heart of Rep. Mark Sanford’s political downfall said in a first-of-its-kind media interview that she did not commit adultery with the former South Carolina governor — despite his own admission of the affair in 2009.

They were only friends until his divorce was final, Maria Belen Chapur insisted in an interview with a colleague at Infobae, a media company in Argentina that also runs Ms. Chapur’s column, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Sanford won a special election for a congressional seat in May. He was touted as a rising conservative star until his week-long absence from the governor’s office and later lie — that he had spent a week hiking the Appalachian Trail — led to allegations he had cheated on his wife with Ms. Chapur, to whom he now is engaged.

Mr. Sanford himself admitted the affair in a 2009 press conference that still resonates as one of the strangest from a politician, during which he offered a teary-eyed expression of sympathy for his then-wife, Jenny, and children for his affair.

But Ms. Chapur slipped in during her interview that the two had actually started a friendship in 2001, when they met in Uruguay, and that their relationship remained platonic until after his 2008 divorce from his wife, AP reported.

“It was strictly friendship,” she said. “In fact, I would get a Christmas card with their family photo. You can see the mails and there’s nothing more there but friendship.”

She also said Mr. Sanford’s reluctance to leave the political world — despite an ethics investigation tied to his Appalachian trip — stemmed from his love of country, not money or fame.

“What I can tell you is that he works incredibly hard, he deeply loves his country,” she said, as AP reported. “What he’s gone through these past five years — he could have left it all behind him. It’s not about the money. The whole world has this fantasy that governors or congressman make a lot of money.”

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