Colombian President Santos Acknowledges and Apologizes for His 2010 Election Campaign Accepting Illegal Funds
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday acknowledged and apologized for illegal funds that were received by his 2010 election campaign. But despite recognizing that the payments occurred — illegally due to Colombian law that prohibits foreign companies from financing presidential campaigns — he denied having any knowledge of the transactions until recently.
“I am deeply sorry and ask forgiveness from Colombians for this shameful act that should never have happened and that I have just learned about,” said Santos in a statement.
Though he didn’t mention the source of the financing by name, the statement came amid blowback over the ongoing and expanding region-wide corruption scandal surrounding Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht SA that has ensnared politicians throughout Latin America.
Despite the recognition, Santos also stressed that, while violating the ethical and accounting norms of the campaign, this transgression cannot be presumed to have stemmed from acts of corruption in his administration. He further called on authorities to “investigate all the decisions of my administration and sanction those responsible for any act of corruption.”
In an interview yesterday with Bogotá’s Blu Radio, former Santos campaign manager Roberto Prieto, while saying that the president had no knowledge of any payment and “absolutely nothing to do with it,” did acknowledge that Odebrecht had paid for some two million election posters during the 2010 campaign.
The admission comes a little over a month after the nation’s attorney general revealed in February that some $1 million USD may have been paid from Odebrecht to Santos’ subsequent presidential campaign for re-election in 2014. Following that announcement in February, Prieto denied the claims, saying that “never have I even shared a coffee” with the man alleged to have taken the bribe from Odebrecht. Camilo Enciso Vanegas, secretary of transparency for the Santos administration, also denounced the allegations at the time as being rooted in an attack by political opponents.
Other high-profile fallout in Colombia over the Odebrecht scandal has included: the arrest the two officials charged with receiving some $11 million USD in bribes, former senator Otto Nicolás Bula and former deputy transport minister Gabriel Garcia Morales; the government terminating two major contracts awarded to Odebrecht, a massive dredging effort on the Magdalena River and a large highway project; calls for Odebrecht to sell its operations and leave the country altogether; the attorney general investigating the possibility that Odebrecht gave funds to Santos’ 2014 election opponent Óscar Iván Zuluaga; and allegations that Odebrecht has been making payments to Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, perhaps dating back more than two decades, to operate in territory controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Politicians in Brazil, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, among other locations, have faced backlash over Odebrecht repercussions in their countries, and at least 11 nations have signed an agreement to ramp up their investigation into the company’s widespread bribery. Major projects awarded to the firm, including multi-billion-dollar plans in Peru and the Dominican Republic, are also now in limbo.
In December, following a long-term and sweeping investigation that began with officials digging into massive corruption at Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petrobras, Odebrecht agreed to a settlement of some $3.5 billion USD with the U.S. Department of Justice. Facing charges of handing out some $800 million in bribes to win contracts throughout a dozen countries since 2001, the company agreed to pay the penalty to various governmental agencies in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland.
In Brazil, the scandal has recently accelerated yet again as a prosecutor revealed that still-sealed testimony from Odebrecht executives will lead to hundreds of new investigations that will further expand the so-called “Car Wash” case in the country. According to Reuters, the revelations from these statements “expanded the probe far beyond expectations and would ensnare top congressmen, senior members of the executive branch, and other powerful figures.”