Odebrecht witness died of cyanide poisoning: report

Rafael Merchan (Image: Caracol Radio)

The transparency secretary of former President Juan Manuel Santos and a witness in the Odebrecht bribery scandal died of cyanide poisoning, according to local media.

Public television news broadcast Noticias Uno reported on Monday that both a family member and an official of the medical examiner’s office confirmed Rafael Merchan died of cyanide poisoning.

The family told newspaper El Tiempo shortly after his death in December that the former official had killed himself.

Witness in Odebrecht bribery scandal committed suicide: family

An anonymous cousin of Merchan and an anonymous Medical Examiner’s Office investigator confirmed that the cause of death was the same as that of the son of key witness Jorge Enrique Pizano, who died in November.

The former director of the Medical Examiner’s Office, Carlos Valdes, resigned last month after falsely informing the public. Sources within the department told media that the tissue of Pizano’s body were kept in formaldehyde, making tests for cyanide impossible.

The Medical Examiner’s Office and its acting director, Arturo Jimenez, would not formally confirm the cause of death, citing family requests for privacy.

Uribe allies founded alleged Odebrecht front company: reports

The Odebrecht scandal, which revolves around tens of millions of dollars in bribes paid by the Brazilian engineering giant  to government officials and politicians, has further devastated public confidence in Colombia’s political and justice systems.

The country’s Supreme Court removed the Prosecutor General’s Office from the case last month after the death of the two Pizanos and indications that chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez was trying to cover up the scandal.

Martinez knew about the bribes since 2015 when he was the judicial adviser of Grupo Aval, the business partner of Odebrecht at the time of the bribes, but has barely advanced investigations after his appointment in 2016.

The high court named a special prosecutor based on a shortlist surrendered by President Ivan Duque, who has also been implicated in the bribery, but was never investigated or even questioned.

Other top politicians that have been implicated are Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, and the former campaign manager of former President Juan Manuel Santos.

Two witnesses left the country and are presumed to be in the United States after the suspicious deaths in what could be Colombia’s most damaging corruption scandal of the past decade.

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