Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) today called for the country to void a major roadway project contract that public prosectors have alleged was awarded to Odebrecht in 2014 after the company bribed a former senator involved in the bidding process.
The Brazilian construction and engineering firm has admitted to issuing $11 million USD in bribes in Colombia dating back to last decade, and prosecutors have claimed that Otto Nicolás Bula Bula took a $4.6 million USD bribe to ensure Odebrecht won a bid to build a second section of the country’s Ruta del Sol highway.
ANI said that, “given the unlawful acts that gave rise” to the contract being award, it will ask the arbitration court to nullify the agreement and reopen the bid to other interested parties. The agency added that, “we vehemently reject the actions of the firm Odebrecht and the deplorable strategy that they executed through Mr. Otto Nicolás Bula to influence in a corrupt way the decisions of the ANI.”
The agency also plans to carry out an audit of the budgets and the financial model associated with the addition of this Ocaña-Gamarra section of the highway to see if they contain any “irregularities.” ANI will also investigate “individuals within the ANI who may have participated in this criminal plot.”
Bula, who was not a senator at the time but was reportedly included in the bid process due to his knowledge of the firm and the planned project, was detained and charged with bribery earlier this week. He pleaded innocent.
The attorney general alleged that, in August 2012, the Colombian branch of Odebrecht contracted with Bula for the purpose of winning the contract for the Ocaña-Gamarra section of the Ruta de Sol road project, one of the many major roadway contracts awarded in recent years as part of Colombia’s massive so-called “Fourth Generation” infrastructure improvement plan. The arrangement — the company paying the former senator million of dollars — was predicated on the Brazilian company winning the bid.
According to the public prosecutor, Bula was also required to ensure that certain stipulations sought by Salvador-based Odebrecht were included in the final project approval, including the specific number of tolls and a price hike for existing tolls. Both of these provisions were included in the contract that was awarded in March 2014. “For this management, Odebrecht made payments from Brazil for $4.6 million USD,” said the office of the attorney general in a statement.
Former deputy transport minister Gabriel Garcia Morales is the official who was charged with taking the other major bribe in the nation’s Odebrecht scandal.
Garcia allegedly was paid $6.5 million USD by the company to ensure that the Brazilian company won a contract awarded between 2009 and 2010 to build an earlier section of the Ruta del Sol. He was also detained earlier this week and pled guilty to charges including bribery.
While the revelation that Odebrecht paid $11 million USD in bribes in Colombia has sent shockwaves through the country’s political world, the scandal runs much deeper elsewhere.
Odebrecht and its affiliate agreed to a mammoth settlement that could include up to $4.5 billion USD in fines to authorities in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland late last year. In all, the firm admitted to handing out nearly $440 million USD in bribes over more than a decade while trying to expand its international operations.
The scandal, which linked Odebrecht to rampant corruption within Brazilian oil company Petrobras, was a major factor in the ouster of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.