Colombia’s chief prosecutor knew of Odebrecht’s bribery practices since 2015 when he was the legal adviser of the Brazilian engineering firm subsidiary, according to a dead key witness.
Television new program Noticias Uno released damning audio files of Jorge Enrique Pizano that put Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez at the center of the scandal after the death of the former comptroller of Corficolombiana, a partner of Odebrecht at the time of the alleged bribery practices.
Martinez at the time was the legal adviser of Colombia’s richest man, Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who also partnered with Odebrecht to obtain the contract for the construction of the “Ruta del Sol” project.
Two days after the death of Pizano, who had been suffering terminal cancer, the son of the comptroller unexpectedly also died, reportedly after drinking a bottle of water that had been poisoned with cyanide in his father’s office.
Martinez’ deputy prosecutor, Maria Paulina Riveros, announced on Tuesday she considered both deaths suspicious and announced a criminal investigation.
The recordings that put Martinez in the center of the scandal
Until his death, Pizano was a key witness in the corruption case because he acted as financial comptroller on the tarnished Ruta del Sol highway project that had illegally been acquired by the Brazilian company.
Pizano claimed that he met with Martinez in August 2015 and surrendered documents highlighting possible corruption practices of the engineering giant that he had come across as financial comptroller.
Suspicious of Martinez’ own involvement in corruption, he recorded the meeting and established in the recordings that Martinez was aware of the suspicions since 2013.
Martinez’ on tape
This is a bribe, man. How much is it worth? Did you give this shit to anyone?
Now you’re in it, and the only idiot who is going to get in trouble is you, asshole, hahaha.
A year after Martinez found out about the corruption of his associate he was appointed chief prosecutor at the request of former President Juan Manuel Santos, but didn’t open an investigation until after the United States justice department revealed Odebrecht’s bribery practices in Colombia.
And suddenly people start dying
Pizano asked Noticias Uno not to broadcast his interview, which was recorded on August 9, 2017, or the 2015 audio recordings until after he either had left the country in protective custody or has died.
The broadcaster fulfilled his wishes and released the recordings casting further doubt about the chief prosecutor’s involvement in top-level corruption on Sunday, the day that Pizano’s son also died.
In an effort to defend himself, Martinez said on Tuesday that he was merely speaking to Pizano by “virtue of an old friendship” and not as a lawyer during the meetings, reported Noticias Uno.
Opposition Senator Jorge Robledo, who has denounced Martinez’ alleged involvement in corruption for years, reiterated that the chief prosecutor should step down.
“I will come to the Senate plenary to ask for another debate this year on the corruption of Ruta del Sol 2 (Odebrecht-Grupo Aval) and the shameless role of prosecutor Martinez Neira, whose absence of ethical values and cynicism require him to resign immediately,” said Robledo on his Twitter account.
The US Justice Department announced in December 2016 that Colombian officials and politicians had received bribes from Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht between 2009 and 2014.
The claim came almost nine months after a Brazilian judge convicted Odebrecht director Marcelo Odebrecht for his firm’s widespread corruption practices in his home country.
Colombia’s Supreme Court elected Martinez at the recommendation of President Juan Manuel Santos in June that year, three months after the sentencing of the Brazilian CEO Marcelo Odebrecht.
The accusations almost immediately embarrassed the chief prosecutor, whose law firm had been hired by Odebrecht’s subsidiary in Colombia while it was bribing officials to obtain the Ruta del Sol II project.
Moreover, Martinez signed off on the construction of the corruption-ridden project in 2014 after Santos appointed him Minister for the Presidency, a post that did not exist before.
Despite the apparent conflicts of interest, the chief prosecutor has refused to withdraw from the criminal investigation that has implicated some of Colombia’s most powerful politicians and corporations, including the president.
Odebrecht’s tentacles in Colombia
The Odebrecht scandal has rocked Colombia’s political establishment with shocking levels of corruption between politicians and various high-ranking officials revealed in the investigation.
Odebrecht financed former President Juan Manuel Santos’ 2010 election campaign and allegedly the 2014 campaign of both Santos (U Party) and his main rival, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Democratic Center) while it was vying for major infrastructure projects like the so-called “Ruta del Sol,” a major highway connecting the capital Bogota to the Caribbean coast.
President Ivan Duque traveled to Brazil with Zuluaga to meet Odebrecht officials ahead of the alleged bribe. Both he and Santos have denied any wrongdoings.
Odebrecht has admitted in US courts to spending more than $788 million in 12 countries in Latin America and Africa.