Colombia’s biggest financial group, Grupo Aval, reportedly authorized the doctoring of documents that facilitated bribes of its former business partner, Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht.
This revelation undermines the claims of Luis Carlos Sarmiento, the majority owner of the banking conglomerate and Colombia’s richest man, who said that his company was a victim of Odebrecht’s corrupt practices.
Board minutes from 2014 were altered nearly a year later, in order to retroactively “authorize” a contract with a firm of stockbrokers, Profesionales de Bolsa, who had already been paid more than $5 million by the group.
This fictitious contract was used as a vehicle for million dollars in bribes, according to investigative journalism website Cuestion Publica and US television network Univision.
If that money was used to pay bribes, the criminal activity doesn’t end there: those who approved it could be accused as accomplices or co-authors of those bribes.
Former Justice Minister Yesid Reyes
Documents received and analysed by Cuestion Publico and Univision reveal that senior Grupo Aval executives authorized the doctoring of the board meetings minutes of the so-called “Consorcio Ruta del Sol,” the consortium one of Grupo Aval’s daughter company Episol formed with Odebrecht in bids for lucrative infrastructure contracts.
The Consorcio Ruta del Sol group was eventually contracted for the second phase of the multi-billion dollar Ruta del Sol project.
The men implicated are Episol board member Alberto Mariño and Eleuberto Martorello, then-president of Odebrecht in Colombia. Neither have responded to these allegations. Grupo Aval’s spokesperson Tatiana Uribe stated that she could not comment.
Luis Ernesto Perez, secretary general of the board, explained the year’s delay by saying that board members often delay in approving acts, with discussions he described as “interminable.”
The altered version of the minutes stated that Profesionales de Bolsa was hired on the grounds that the board had too little experience in financial markets. Mariño accepted this argument, despite Grupo Aval being among Latin America’s biggest financial conglomerates with banks across the region and having that experience and capacity to advise.
Imprisoned former senator Otto Bula told the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2017 that money received by Profesionales de Bolsa ended up in the pockets of former Transport Minister Miguel Peñaloza, former Senator Plinio Olano, and lobbyist Federico Gaviria, as part of negotiations that he did not describe in detail.
Profesionales de Bolsa was liquidated in 2017 at the request of the company itself. Grupo Aval announced in December that it was cooperating with the United States’ Department of Justice that has been investigating Odebrecht’s bribery practices throughout Latin America and Africa.
In Colombia, the scandal has destroyed public confidence in the country’s political and judicial systems as among those implicated in the bribery scandal are President Ivan Duque, his political patron Alvaro Uribe, Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez and the 2010 and 2014 campaign manager of former President Juan Manuel Santos.