Colombia: Ex-President Santos Will be Investigated for Odebrecht Bribes in 2014 Campaign

Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is currently under investigation for large unregistered donations made to his 2014 reelection campaign by the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

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Brazilian firm Odebrecht has been widely implicated in a bribery ring that spread throughout Latin America (Flickr).

Although Colombia’s former president Juan Manuel Santos has remained isolated from national politics, Odebrecht’s ghost is ever present. The National Electoral Council (CNE) summoned the ex-president to present his version of the facts related to the financing of his second round campaign in 2014, when he was nearly defeated by Oscar Zuluaga.

Unlike other countries, where the bribes paid by Odebrecht in exchange for favorable consideration for infrastructure projects went directly to the presidential candidates, in Colombia, as stated by former Partido de la U congressman Otto Bula, who participated in the bribe network of the Brazilian multinational, in Colombia the funds were distributed differently. For this reason, in order to investigate the way in which these funds entered the 2014 Santos Campaign, the CNE opened a preliminary inquiry against the former president based on an investigation first “undertaken by the Attorney General’s Office, for the alleged violation of the campaign finance laws.”

This investigation is based on a statement made by businessman Andrés Sanmiguel Castaño on June 18, 2018.

Through the company Gistic Logistic Soluciones Integrales, Sanmiguel disguised the source of the illegal campaign contributions made by  Odebrecht to the presidential re-election campaign of Santos in 2014. These were funds that came directly from Consol, the company that created Odebrecht, and from Episol, a subsidiary of Corficolombiana, companies involved in the massive infrastructure project Ruta del Sol 2, which connects the capital of Bogota with Colombia’s Atlantic Coast.

Gistic Logistic Soluciones Integrales gave 3,850 million COP (roughly USD $1.1 million) to the Santos presidential campaign, money that was distributed among leaders of the Liberal Party, including Simón Gaviria, son of César Gaviria.

The opening of the investigation is, as reported by the CNE, “within the context of file 3860-19, in order to establish the existence of new facts, which may be subject to investigation.” In addition to Santos, his campaign manager Roberto Prieto, and his auditor Araceli Rojas (who was also the legal representative of the Partido de la U in 2014) are also under investigation.

In 2010 Odebrecht paid a USD $400,000 bill for posters for the presidential campaign of Santos, a fact confessed by Prieto. The Prosecutor’s Office has filed two investigations against the presidential campaigns of Santos (2010 and 2014) both due to expire. Prieto was sentenced to five years for crimes of influence peddling and perjury in conjunction with the Odebrecht case.

The ex-president recently wrote a column in the Spanish newspaper El País advising President Iván Duque “to put peace above the parties and lead the way in the construction of peace, in order to recover the governance that has been lost prematurely.”

Undoubtedly President Santos staked his political legacy on peace, following the negotiation process he had with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba. However, the current investigation also seeks to clarify whether part of the Odebrecht bribes were destined not only for the presidential re-election, but also for the negotiation process between Santos and the guerrillas.

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