Woman confirms affair with Sanford

June 29, 2009 11:25:43 AM PDT
South Carolina's wandering governor didn't give away her name when he confessed to having an affair with an Argentine woman, but Maria Belen Chapur has finally stepped forward. After evading hordes of local and foreign journalists who besieged her apartment building for five days amid rumors it was her, Chapur issued a brief statement Sunday confirming a relationship with Gov. Mark Sanford -- although she didn't use the word "affair."

In fact, the 41-year-old mother of two children didn't directly mention the governor in the statement sent to C5n, a local all-news cable television channel. She mainly criticized the leaking of e-mail correspondence taken without permission from her Hotmail account that described the relationship with Sanford.

Chapur made clear the statement was her final comment and she has no intention of talking about her private life.

That likely will disappoint people who have been enthralled by the story, both those appalled by Sanford's infidelity and those enchanted by his obvious love for her -- a woman that one of Sanford's e-mails says he was drawn to because she has "the ability to love unconditionally. The rarest of all commodities in this world of love."

The only image of Chapur seen these days is a brief video of a news dispatch she filed from New York for an Argentine channel shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the U.S.

At that time, she traveled frequently between Argentina and the United States, according to local media. It was around that time -- eight years ago, the governor said in his tearful confession Wednesday -- that they met, at an "open air dance spot" in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este, according to one of the leaked e-mails.

After the news of the relationship broke, her apartment building was staked out by dozens of reporters, cameramen and photographers, locals and Americans, unsuccessfully trying to grab a glimpse and some words from her.

Heber Alvarez, a doorman at the building, described Chapur as "well mannered, soft spoken, elegant." But he refused to go in detail, saying he didn't want to risk his job.

He did say she is an avid sports fan who works out at a gym and jogs frequently near the building, which is across the street from the city zoo in the upper-class Palermo neighborhood. She is listed among participants in several 10-kilometer races in recent years.

Carlos Sosto, a restaurant owner who said he knows Chapur as a neighborhood resident, refused to confirm reports that she dined at his place last week with Sanford. Without naming anyone, he suggested she has influential friends who asked him not to talk with reporters.

Neighbors who know Chapur say she lives with her 15- and 19-year-old sons. She is no longer with her husband, a soy exporter, the neighbors said, but it isn't clear if she is separated or divorced.

Chapur spent her elementary and high school years at St. Catherine's, an expensive private school in Buenos Aires' posh Belgrano district. She then earned a degree in social politics at the Catholic University of Argentina, according to the university's Web site.

Besides working as a TV reporter, she is known to have worked as an English interpreter for a time. She also was employed as a market researcher, she told an Associated Press reporter who interviewed her for a 2005 story on Argentines taking a Chinese language course.

She said she took the course in preparation for accompanying her husband on a business trip to Beijing and Shanghai. It isn't clear what level of Chinese she reached, but she said that having traveled to many parts of the world, China was the most difficult place for her to communicate.

She said at the time she was fluent in English and French in addition to Spanish, and had a good command of Portuguese. Rodrigo Franca, a Brazilian who lives in her apartment building, described her Portuguese now as good.

Chapur's 400-word statement Sunday added no details about her as a person. Its purpose was to address news reports on some of the e-mails showing her relationship with Sanford that were leaked late last year to the South Carolina newspaper The State.

"I have decided to send this statement to clear up certain incorrect things that are being reported and put an end to a matter that, as you imagine, is very painful to me, my two children, my entire family and close friends," she said.

She said someone accessed her Hotmail account without permission and sent the e-mail correspondence to the newspaper.

Chapur denied that the person was a friend -- as reported by some news outlets -- saying he was as much a victim of the media frenzy as she.

"I have a strong suspicion of who is responsible for this evil act that was directed at me, but also destroyed the lives of so many others," she said. "But without sufficient proof, and for legal reasons, I am obligated to not reveal the name."

"It is not for me to judge anyone. I leave it all in the hands of God," she said.

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