January 20, 2018
Friday, February 10, 2017

Santos may have received U$S1 million from Odebrecht

Alleged repentant opposition senator says Colombia’s President was bribed in 2014

BOGOTA — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos might have received an almost US$1 million contribution from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a Brazilian mamooth company that has admitted to paying bribes in 12 countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, between 2002 and 2016, according to a complaint filed by the Attorney General.

Chief prosecutor Néstor Martínez, formerly a top aide to Santos, said only in a brief statement that he was alerting electoral authorities so they could investigate if a portion of the US$4.6 million allegedly paid by Odebrecht to a former senator currently accused of graft may have been funnelled to the Santos campaign.

Just being associated with Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying US$800 million in bribes across Latin America, is a major blow for Santos, last year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize,.

“I ask the electoral commission for a thorough investigation as quickly as possible so all of the truth about the Odebrecht case can come to light,” Santos said on Twitter.

President’s aides were outraged and were quick to repeat their claim that Santos took no private contributions, from individuals or companies, during his 2014 campaign in which he narrowly defeated Álvaro Uribe’s former finance minister Oscar Iván Zuluaga. “It’s absurd and unacceptable that people with dubious reputations can, with a simple declaration and without any proof, throw mud at the 2014 presidential campaign,” a statement from the Interior Ministry counterattacked.

When Odebrecht agreed in December to pay a US$3.5 billion fine in the US as part of a plea agreement, authorities in Colombia were swift to respond, becoming the first country outside Brazil to arrest former officials accused of taking bribes.

“So far no official from my government has been accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht, but if that should occur, I want the entire weight of the law to fall on them,” Santos said last month.

Among those jailed was Otto Bula, a little-known rancher who was a regional political ally of the former far right President Uribe, Santos’ chief opponent.

According to Martínez, Bula lobbied on behalf of Odebrecht and helped channel US$4.6 million to still unknown recipients after the company was awarded a major highway contract. Most of the money went through companies in Panama and China, but two alleged transfers to Colombia of almost US$1 million total purportedly ended up in the management of Santos’ campaign, Martínez said, without commenting on the veracity of the claims.

“For now, the testimony of Bula is the only proof of the entrance of US$1 million into the Santos campaign. He has explained the method, time and place of the delivery of that money,” Martínez told reporters. Ex-Liberal Party senator Bula was arrested last month on charges of bribery and illicit enrichment.

Transparency Secretary Camilo Encisco said Santos welcomed an investigation to remove any doubt about his probity.

“It’s the word of a criminal, who is looking for legal benefits at any cost, against the word of a campaign manager,” Enciso said. “We’re certain that these investigations will reveal such affirmations to be false, as has occurred on previous occasions.”

Odebrecht’s Colombian office declined to comment.

— Herald with Reuters, AP

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