US prosecutors step into Colombia's Odebrecht probe

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into the now cancelled Ruta del Sol II concession. The contract is at the center of the Odebrecht bribe scandal in Colombia, and DOJ has requested local Aval group, which was involved in the contract, to cooperate in the investigation.

Aval, part of the concession through subsidiaries Corficolombiana and Estudios y Proyectos del Sol, said in a notice to financial regulator SIC "it will cooperate with the DOJ's investigation, as it has done with other government agencies."

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Currently, Corficolombiana's former head José Melo is awaiting trial over bribery charges in relation to the contract.

Aval has been accused of ignoring warnings about Odebrecht's behavior before the bribes scandal broke in 2016. One witness, Jorge Pizano who is now deceased, recorded conversations in 2015 that were unveiled by news outlets last month. In one recording Pizano told then Corficolombiana lawyer Nestor Gutierrez about the irregularities in the contract. Gutierrez is now Colombia's head prosecutor.

The publication of these conversations prompted President Iván Duque to consider a dedicated Odebrecht prosecutor, since Gutierrez's involvement has raised doubts over his dedication to the case.

SANTOS TO TESTIFY

At the same time, a judge in Bogotá admitted a petition from the defense of Luis Fernando Andrade, also facing charges over the Ruta del Sol II contract. Andrade resigned last year as head of infrastructure agency ANI. The petition calls former president Juan Manuel Santos to testify as a witness in the upcoming trial.

The admission also means that former vice-president Germán Vargas, head prosecutor Nestor Gutierrez and other former Santos administration authorities testify, daily El Tiempo reported.

Andrade, who resigned after it became public that he was going to be charged in the Odebrecht probe, is accused with of exerting undue influence when signing an addendum to the Ruta del Sol II contract in 2014, which entailed the 82km Ocaña-Gamarra stretch.