As outrage swirled around Gov. Mark Sanford's affair with an Argentine mistress, new details emerged Thursday about the mystery woman he labored for months to keep under wraps.
Sanford acknowledged his tryst in a teary-eyed press conference Wednesday, but hasn't given up her name. Despite his best efforts, however, word leaked that his Latin lover is Maria Belen Chapur, a 43-year-old divorcee with two sons.
La Nacion newspaper in Buenos Aires was among the first to out Chapur, described as a "vigorous, well-preserved" woman who works for an agricultural business and lives in the fashionable and trendy district of Palermo. Other news outlets reported her last name as Shapur.
She is said to be an attractive, athletic and well-educated professional who speaks English, Portuguese and Chinese, the Clarin and Terra Noticias news services reported.
She lives in an upscale apartment building near a zoo, a large park and the U.S. Embassy. She is said to have attended St. Catherine's, a well-regarded private school.
The governor's office refused to confirm these reports.
After six days of speculation about his whereabouts, Sanford emerged Wednesday and confessed to having an affair with a woman he met in Argentina eight years ago. Sanford grew misty during the press conference, and he said he had spent the past week crying in Argentina and trying to get his "heart right."
On Thursday, celebrity gossip Web site TMZ quoted Buenos Aires bar owner Carlos Soto as saying he saw the governor and his mistress having a good time last week. The owner of Guido's Bar told TMZ that the two were "all over each over" in his establishment, "kissing, holding hands and drinking wine."
Media crews reportedly camped outside Chapur's apartment Thursday, but she did not speak with reporters.
Several media outlets reported that Chapur works for Bunge y Born, a multi-national agribusiness with deep roots in Argentina. Bunge y Borne is now known as Bunge Limited, based in White Plains, N.Y.
Stewart Lindsay, a spokesman for Bunge Limited, said Chapur has never worked for the company. He said the confusion may stem from published race results from a 2005 marathon in which Chapur ran alongside Bunge workers with whom she is friends.
"But she is not an employee and has never worked there," Lindsay said.
Sanford drew national attention after he drove off in a law enforcement vehicle last week and disappeared. His aides and his wife initially said they had no idea where he was, adding that the governor had pulled vanishing acts in the past when he needed time to clear his head.
Sanford's aides later said that he had merely taken time off to go hiking along the Appalachian Trail. They stuck to that story for two days until a reporter for The State newspaper in Columbia caught up with the governor Wednesday as he stepped off a plane at the Atlanta airport.
Sanford admitted that he had been in South America. At the press conference he offered a broader explanation, confessing that he had an extramarital affair and had misled his staff about the secret trip he took last week to be with the woman.
Sanford said he met his mistress eight years ago. They struck up a conversation, became friendly and decided to stay in contact via e-mail, he said.
"It started on a very casual basis — run things by each other," he said. He felt as if he had found a confidant. "We developed a remarkable friendship over those eight years. About a year ago, it sparked into something more than that."
Felipe Noguera, a political consultant in Argentina, said the affair has not attracted great attention in Buenos Aires, likely because many people are preoccupied by the upcoming mid-term legislative elections.
Affairs of the heart and other personal peccadillos also seem to attract less attention in Argentina than in the United States, where philandering has torpedoed so many political careers, Noguera said.
"That is more of an American phenomenon, like sitcoms or soap operas," he said