The top official in charge of fighting corruption in Colombia was arrested yesterday in Bogotá for allegedly accepting a bribe to interfere in a court case.
Earlier this month, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivero, who had served as the national director of anti-corruption in the office of Colombia’s attorney general, took a $10,000 USD down payment of a bribe during a meeting in South Florida with a former Colombian governor who faces embezzlement charges in his home country, according to case documents from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The initial payment, the first installment of a previously-agreed-upon sum of $130,000 USD, was allegedly being handed over in exchange for Moreno’s “ability to control the investigation” against the governor, according the DOJ. Moreno, per “recorded conversations,” presumably obtained through the cooperation of embattled former Córdoba governor Alejandro Lyons Muskus, had also agreed to “inundate his prosecutors with work so that they would be unable to focus” on the investigation, stated the DOJ.
On the strength of this evidence, Moreno, who has been under investigation by U.S. law enforcement dating back to at least November 2016, was apprehended in the Colombian capital on a warrant issued by Interpol in France. He has been charged with conspiracy to launder money with the intent to promote foreign bribery.
The now-disgraced public servant was taken to La Picota Penitentiary in the Colombian capital where Moreno will be held with the expectation of being extradited to the United States, said Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez.
“With indignation and profound institutional pain,” wrote Martínez in a statement, “I am obliged to inform the public that…Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivero has just been captured…for conduct that seriously damages our institutional integrity.”
Martínez condemned such behavior that defies the “highest trust” and thanked law enforcement officials in the United States — including the DEA, FBI, and IRS — for their cooperation “in combating the scourge of corruption that affects both the integrity and transparency of public administration.”
Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gómez, a lawyer from Colombia who allegedly aided Moreno as an intermediary and was present in Florida, was also arrested and will be facing the same charges, said Martínez.
Lyons, the former governor facing embezzlement charges, was not identified in the statement from the DOJ. But Martínez did reveal his identify in an announcement and said that the former governor has offered “collaboration with the Colombian authorities.”
At the time his comments were made public, Martínez said he was scheduled to soon meet with U.S. Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Blanco to collaborate further on the Moreno case and discuss ways to “further strengthen our anti-corruption efforts.”
While outlying the results of the case and confirming the arrest of Moreno, Martínez also announced that Alberto Salas, who has previously worked in Colombian tax collection authority DIAN, has been appointed as the new head of his office’s anti-corruption efforts.
The high-profile international case comes at a time when many Colombian politicians, up to President Juan Manuel Santos, have been ensnared in corruption scandals. Late last year, Brazilian engineering and construction firm Odebrecht, along with one of its subsidiaries, settled region-wide bribery charges brought by the DOJ for an historic, record-high sum of at least $3.5 billion USD in penalties.
DOJ documents show that Odebrecht paid at least $11 million USD in bribes within Colombia dating back to early this century to win rigged bids for two infrastructure projects. At least two former public officials in Colombia have been arrested for their alleged role in the crime. Links have also been established between illicit Odebrecht funds and the election campaigns of Colombian politicians, including Santos.
“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 in March. The president has maintained that the funds were accepted by members of his campaign without his knowledge.
In settling the case in December 2016, Odebrecht admitted to paying at least $788 million USD in bribes, mostly within Latin America but also two win bids in two African nations.
The DOJ documents state that the company, between 2001 to 2016, handed out bribes to win more than 100 projects in Brazil ($349 million USD), Venezuela ($98 million USD), the Dominican Republic ($92 million USD), Panama ($59 million), Angola ($50 million USD), Argentina ($35 million USD), Peru ($29 million USD), Ecuador ($33.5 million USD), Guatemala ($18 million USD), Colombia ($11 million USD), Mexico ($10 million), and Mozambique ($900,000 USD).