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Corruption case linked to Colombian president’s 2014 election campaign

State attorney’s office says $1m bribe was used by Juan Manuel Santos’ campaign manager

The bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht continues to rock Latin America, with Colombia’s government demanding more information and asking the attorney general’s office to move forward with an investigation.

Odebrecht's offices, guarded by police.
Odebrecht's offices, guarded by police. AFP

On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office said that part of a bribe paid to a former senator arrested at the beginning of the year ended up in the electoral campaign fund of President Juan Manuel Santos in 2014.

On January 14, Otto Bula, a former Liberal Party congressman, was arrested. At the time, the deputy attorney general, María Paulina Riveros, said Bula was hired by Odebrecht in August 2013 to help it secure a contract to help build part of a major road network in Colombia. Bula was accused of receiving a $4.6 million commission.

On December 22, Odebrecht agreed to pay US, Brazilian and Swiss prosecutors $3.5 billion

“It has been established that of that amount, Bula organized two transfers toward Colombia that were monetized for a total of $1 million, the beneficiary of which was the Santos Presidente-2014 campaign,” reads a statement issued by the attorney general’s office released on Tuesday, adding that of the $1 million, “a 10% commission had been discounted in favor of third parties already identified by the attorney general’s office.”

Roberto Uribe, Santos’s campaign manager in 2014, has rejected the accusations, releasing a statement saying he has never met Otto Bula and that no donations were received during the campaign and that the country’s electoral commission subsequently audited the campaign accounts.

Tuesday’s events are the latest accusations involving alleged bribes by Odebrecht in Colombia. On January 12, Gabriel García Morales, a former transport minister under the government of Álvaro Uribe between 2009 and 2010, was detained by prosecutors.

He was accused of taking $6.5 million from Odebrecht to guarantee that the company won a bid to build part of the so-called Ruta del Sol, a major highway project.

Odebrecht is accused of bribing another politician to secure construction contracts

On December 22, Odebrecht agreed to pay US, Brazilian and Swiss prosecutors $3.5 billion for bribing politicians and other officials in pursuit of lucrative construction contracts throughout Latin America.

Otto Bula was arrested two days after García Morales. He has been linked to a number of corruption investigations over recent years in Colombia. It has since emerged that Bula has mentioned 14 people, including former ministers, that he says are involved in Odebrecht’s web of corruption.

Over recent weeks, an investigation has been underway into the possible involvement of Brazilian consultant Duda Mendoça, who was arrested in relation to the Lava Jato Petrobras corruption case in Brazil, in the election campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who was backed by Álvaro Uribe, and who lost to Santos in the 2014 elections. Odebrecht is believed to have paid $1.6 million to Mendoça to advise Zuluaga’s campaign. Uribe has asked the Colombian state attorney’s office to investigate the allegations.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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