The Americas

Both guerilla and President Santos 'bribed' by Odebrecht in Colombia, prosecutor says

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londonoin Bogota, Colombia November 24, 2016.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londonoin Bogota, Colombia November 24, 2016.  (Reuters)

The corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is spreading its tentacles in Colombia, where both the president and the guerilla are being accused of receiving “contributions” in exchange for favors and protection respectively.

According to Chief Prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez, Odebrecht paid $1 million for an opinion poll carried out during President Juan Manuel Santos’ re-election campaign in 2014. He said the company's goal was to curry favor with the Santos government to help it win a $100 million arbitration involving disputes over a highway project.

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Santos, who was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize for a deal reached with FARC, a drug trafficking guerilla, has not commented on the issue yet.

The president’s association with Odebrecht is bound to further damage him with elections 14 months away and an uneasy coalition in congress needed to implement the controversial peace accord.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian weekly reported that in the course of the investigation two company executives revealed that Odebrecht made payments of between $50,000 and $100,000 a month in exchange for “permits” to build in territory held by the rebels.

According to Veja magazine, Odebrecht began the payments in the 1990s after Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas kidnapped two of its executives. The payments were considered a "guerrilla tax" and reportedly allowed Odebrecht to complete a 310-mile highway linking central Colombia with its Caribbean coastline, as well as other projects. 

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A FARC spokesman said the insurgency group was not aware of any money paid to the Brazilian company.

The fallout from Brazil's continuing investigation into Odebrecht is increasingly implicating politicians across the region — in a plea agreement last year with the U.S. Justice Department, admitted to paying some $800 million in bribes to win business across Latin America.

Last month, a judge in Peru ordered the arrest of former President Alejandro Toledo for allegedly receiving some $20 million in bribes for granting a lucrative contract to build a highway between Brazil and the Pacific Coast.

The AP contributed to this report.