Argentina: President takes on 'Big Brother' contestant

FILE - Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez waits for the arrival of Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, April 18, 2022. Gregorio Dalbon, the lawyer of President Fernandez wrote on Twitter Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, that Fernandez is objecting to allegations by a contestant in the local version of the reality show Big Brother that linked the head of state with corruption. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File) (Natacha Pisarenko, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BUENOS AIRES – President Alberto Fernández of Argentina is objecting to allegations by a contestant in the local version of the reality show “Big Brother” that linked the head of state with corruption. The contestant did not provide evidence to support the allegations.

“If the slander against the nation's president persists,” Fernández “has instructed me to initiate civil actions for damages against his honor,” Gregorio Dalbón, the president's lawyer, wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “We hope to avoid the wasteful and unnecessary legal action with a retraction.”

The wildly popular reality show suddenly took a political turn days after its premiere Monday in the Telefe network, a subsidiary of Paramount Global, after Walter Santiago, nicknamed “Alfa,” said he had repeatedly bribed the president.

“I know Alberto Fernández for 35 years,” Santiago, 60, said in a conversation with other members of the house where they all live together as part of the competition show. “I paid bribes to Fernández many times. I know him very well ... there are many politicians who have clung on to power and have made a fortune with politics.”

Santiago, a car salesman, never specifies what the bribes were for or how much money was involved.

The president's spokeswoman, Gabriela Cerruti, was the first to complain about Santiago's words on Wednesday evening, writing on Twitter that the president does not remember ever meeting Santiago.

Fernández “has never been involved in corruption” and “has made transparency a central purpose of his participation in public service,” Cerruti wrote.

Cerruti also fired back against members of the opposition who quickly came out to criticize her for spending time talking about a reality television program when the country is mired in economic woes, including an annual inflation rate of 83 percent.

“I find it striking that people who on social media are always willing to give lessons about what should be done, think that we shouldn't pay attention to what happens in a popular program,” Cerruti said.

In his introductory video to participate in “Big Brother,” Santiago said that “no one has ever been in charge of me nor told me what I had to do and in the house no one will tell me what I have to do.”