The son of Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Colombia’s richest man, was personally informed about the bribery of the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe, the former Odebrecht Colombia director told a judge on Monday.
Luis Antonio Bueno, the Brazilian engineering firm’s former chief in Colombia, made the bombshell claim on the first day of hearings of three former Odebrecht executives who flew over from Brazil after being exempt from justice in Colombia.
Bueno was the first to testify and immediately implicated the son of the majority shareholder of banking giant Grupo Aval and Jose Elias Melo, the former CEO of Corficolombia.
Grupo Aval and Corficolombia teamed up with Odebrecht in a corrupt, but successful bid to construct the second stage of the so-called Ruta del Sol highway that connects the capital Bogota to the Caribbean coast.
Both Sarmiento junior and Melo were informed about the bribery of jailed former deputy Transport Minister Gabriel Garcia, Corficolombia CFO Gustavo Ramirez allegedly told the Odebrecht Colombia chief.
I had a quick conversation with Gustavo Ramirez and told him what had happened the night before and at the end of the conversation I mentioned the agreement with Gabriel Ignacio and he said that he was going to inform Luis Carlos Sarmiento Jr.
Former Odebrecht Colombia chief Luis Antonio Bueno
The revelations made on the first day of hearings immediately increased the problems of Colombia’s largest banking conglomerate, whose judicial adviser at the time, Nestor Humberto Martinez, is currently Colombia’s chief prosecutor.
Martinez and the entire prosecution office was taken off the case in December last year after claims he knew of the bribery that took place since 2015 and growing suspicion the Prosecutor General’s Office was trying to cover up the scandal.
According to Maria Fernanda Carrascal, an anti-corruption activist who was present at the hearings, “everything indicates that the prosecution asked that the Odebrecht hearings would be held behind closed doors,” disallowing the press to take note of the revelations. This request was denied by the judge, Carrascal said.
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 Uribe, the Prosecutor General and the 2010 and 2014 campaign manager of former President Juan Manuel Santos.