Colombia’s Supreme Court on Thursday urged President Ivan Duque to surrender a shortlist of candidate special prosecutors that could assume the investigation of the Odebrecht bribery scandal from the disgraced Prosecutor General’s Office.
The bribes from the Brazilian engineering firm has devastated the legitimacy of the prosecution, whose chief is up to his neck in trouble for allegedly trying to cover up the scandal.
The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to appoint an independent special prosecutor and urged Duque, an alleged beneficiary of the bribery, to surrender a shortlist of candidates within a week.
US ambassador Kevin Whitaker this week urged special protection measures for a key witness who has been arrested, who has accused Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez of trying to silence witnesses.
Murder during investigation implying chief prosecutor
The investigation seemed to be going nowhere until two weeks ago when whistleblower Jorge Enrique Pizano died, leaving media with audio that all but proved the chief prosecutor knew about Odebrecht’s bribery practices since 2015 when he was “the guy” of Colombia’s richest man, Luis Carlos Sarmiento, the Brazilians’ business partner while bribes were being handed out between 2009 and 2014.
Stocks of Sarmiento’s “Grupo Aval” dropped more than 1$ billion over the past week after the son of Pizano died of cyanide poisoning three days after his father.
The chief prosecutor was Sarmiento’s legal adviser when Pizano told him about the corruption in 2015 and signed off on the disgraced “Ruta del Sol II” project when he was former President Juan Manuel Santos‘ “Minister of the Presidency” in 2014.Martinez was grilled by the senate this week and admitted that his office has been spying on anti-corruption opposition leaders who have called for the disgraced chief prosecutor’s resignation.
While Martinez and his deputy, Maria Paulina Riveros, have been removed from the case, the Prosecutor General’s Office has gone out of their way to defend their boss’ alleged attempts to cover up the million-dollar bribes marred by irregularities.
To make matters worse for the prosecution, investigators lost key evidence in the investigation of the cyanide poisoning that killed the late whistleblower’s son.
All eyes on Duque
The president is now expected to surrender a shortlist of three candidate special prosecutors before December 6. This puts tremendous pressure on Duque who could end up investigated for allegedly receiving bribes himself.
Santos and his predecessor, Senator Alvaro Uribe, appear to also have benefited from the $30 million Odebrecht piñata, making an effective investigation of the corruption scandal a potential time bomb for Colombia’s notoriously corrupt ruling class.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said Thursday that Duque “has said he is willing to present the shortlist rapidly.”
Colombia’s government and Duque in particular, have become notorious for not fulfilling or even breaking promises, leaving many with little confidence that the president will present viable candidates before the Supreme Court goes on Christmas recess.