Odebrecht’s former chief of operations in Colombia, Eleuberto Martorelli, revealed in his plea bargain deal testimony that president Juan Manuel Santos and his then-opponent Óscar Iván Zuluaga’s election campaigns received money from the company via slush funds in 2014.
Colombia’s investigations have proved that, in February 2014, Odebrecht signed a US$ 1 million contract with Panamanian company Paddington, which has ties to Colombian advertising agency Sancho BBDO, to conduct an opinion survey in Colombia’s major cities, with regards to the election campaign. In 2010, the company also paid for some of Santos’ campaign posters.
“In March 2014, I paid (Santos) US$ 500,000 and, later, after completing the (opinion survey) services in April, I paid him another US$ 500,000. The payments were made to the Paddington company, through Hilberto Silva, from the Structured Operations (Sector), and his team”, relates Martorelli, referencing Odebrecht’s department for handling and distributing bribes, headed by Hilberto Silva, which also made a plea bargain deal and testimony, and how it relates to the illegal payments made to Santos’ campaign.
In May 2018, the Colombian House of Representatives’ Indictment Committee shelved the investigation on president Santos, concerning the payments made by Odebrecht during his 2014 campaign. The committee also investigated reports of illegal payments from 2010. The representatives deemed that there was insufficient evidence against the president.
At court, however, the case remains open. Also in May 2018, a judge ordered the arrest of Roberto Prieto, Santos’ former re-election campaign manager in 2014, accused of taking 650 million Colombian pesos (US$ 230,000) in bribes from the Brazilian company. In his testimony, Martorelli details how the illegal contributions were made to Santos.
“In the beginning of 2014, in January, I was contacted at our office in Bogotá by an advertising executive called Luis Peña, who wanted to schedule a meeting. I had already met Luis Peña at a social event, I can’t recall where, whether it was at a workshop or something like that, when we exchanged business cards. Luis Peña called and we set up a meeting in the following days, which took place in the Bogotá office (…) There, Luis Peña asked if the company was interested in hiring his advertising company to conduct a survey requested by Unidad Nacional’s re-election campaign, Juan Manuel Santos’ re-election campaign. This survey was about Colombia’s political situation in the country’s main cities. (…) It could be of great interest to Odebrecht, seeing as it could help to better understand the country’s political situation. In this meeting, I said that yes, we were interested, but that, (…) if we agreed to pay for the survey, Luis Peña would have to ensure that the government’s top-level officials were aware that the company had contributed to the re-election process”, he explains.
The opposition’s candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga’s campaign, on the other hand, received illegal donations amounting to US$ 1.5 million, by way of advertising agent Duda Mendonça, according to Martorelli’s testimony. The contact between the advertiser and the candidate’s campaign was handled by Martorelli himself. Months later, he was approached by one of Zuluaga’s advisors with the request. “I decided to support the campaign, precisely because it was a great opportunity for the candidate to go on to the election’s second round, and because I saw my chance to become closer to what could be the new administration, aiming to facilitate the company’s access to new opportunities in the country”, recounts Martorelli, who asserts that the payment to Duda Mendonça was made in Brazil.
Colombia is also investigating Odebrecht for paying bribes in exchange for being awarded the Ocaña-Gamarra segment of the Ruta del Sol II Highway contract (approximately 600 kilometres of double-lane road connecting the centre of the country to its Atlantic coast) — the company’s executives admitted to the crime in their testimonies. According to local investigations, the total bribe amount surpassed US$ 42 million.
According to Martorelli’s testimony, the corruption scheme was mediated by Otto Bula, who used his influenced in the Colombian congress to facilitate projects and contractual amendments for Odebrecht, in the infrastructure contracts it operated the country. In exchange, Bula received 1 per cent of the cost of the contract for which Odebrecht was interested in obtaining advantages.
“When I arrived, Otto Bula put himself at our disposal, to see where he could help with the public bidding processes. That was precisely when we started talking about various topics with him, about how he could help us”, explains Martorelli.
According to Colombia’s investigations, former Vice-Minister of Transportation Gabriel García Morales received US$ 6.5 million in bribes, while former senator Bula received US$ 1 million. Still according to local authorities, former senator Bernardo Miguel Elías may have received part of a 17 million Colombian pesos (approximately US$ 6,000) bribe, paid to him, as well as to senator Musa Besaile. After the start of the investigations, Odebrecht had its Ruta del Sol II Highway contract cancelled, was barred from entering public biddings in the country, and had to return US$ 10.8 million to Colombia’s treasury.
Apart from Eleuberto Martorelli, who also gave details on how the payments made to former Vice-Minister of Transportation were carried out, other former Odebrecht executives also contributed to the investigations into Colombia’s corruption scheme. Luiz Bueno Junior, Odebrecht Colombia’s former chairman, explained that, starting in 2009, the year when he was assigned to the country, he would use his good relationship with the Colombian government to benefit the company. Another informant, Luiz Antonio Mameri, Odebrecht’s former director for Latin America, explained how he managed to get the Ruta del Sol 2 contract awarded to the company, using the bribery scheme involving Colombian congressmen and members of the country’s Executive Branch. The fourth informant in the Colombian chapter of the investigations was Luiz Eduardo Soares, former Structured Operations Sector employee, who has been accused of handling the accounting for the illegal payments. Furthermore, Soares arguably handled the money transfers using accounts held by offshore companies.
PUBLIC CONTRACTS WITH POSSIBLE IRREGULARITIES
Ocaña-Gamarra Segment of the Ruta del Sol II Highway (approximately 600 kilometres of double-lane road connecting the centre of the country to its Atlantic coast)