Colombian opposition Senator Gustavo Petro on Tuesday accused some of Colombia’s most powerful politicians and businessmen of mass embezzlement of state funds and was almost immediately charged with election fraud.
In a video published on his social media channels, Petro said that the Odebrecht scandal currently being investigated by a special prosecutor is part of a gigantic corruption racket that involves a series of major road infrastructure projects and implicates Colombia’s richest man and multiple allies of former President Alvaro Uribe.
The prosecution, which has been removed from the Odebrecht case because of Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez’ alleged attempts to cover up the scandal, struck back within 24 hours and formally accused the anti-corruption advocate of receiving illegal campaign funds ahead of last year’s presidential elections.
Colombia’s mega-cartel, according to Petro
Petro said that the business cartel that worked with the Brazilian engineering firm is also tied to a corruption scandal in Bogota that led to the incarceration of former Mayor Samuel Moreno and a series of other infrastructure projects.
Rather than considering the Bogota public works scandal and the Odebrecht scandal the work of two separate business cartels, Petro said that they were linked and part of a racket of unprecedented proportions involving Colombia’s richest man, the country’s ambassador to the OAS, multiple government contractors and multiple Uribe associates.
This alleged multinational cartel would have colluded with top officials to corrupt not only public works in Bogota and the Ruta del Sol II highway project, but a whole series of huge infrastructure projects.
The corruption deal would have included the three phases of the Ruta del Sol project, with the Solarte family of Odinsa, the Italians of Impregilo, Andres Jaramillo of Conalvias, and Luis Carlos Sarmiento and Jose Elias Melo of Grupo Aval.
Senator Gustavo Petro
Petro accused the prosecution of only investigating the corruption scandal linked to Bogota’s leftist former mayor, and that the judicial body “left the national government contract cartel that was associated with the Uribe administration in impunity.”
Investigations into the corruption scandals would have been purposely frustrated by the Prosecutor General’s Office under the leadership of chief prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez and the Inspector General’s Office when it was led by Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS, Alejandro Ordoñez.
Martinez, the former judicial adviser of Grupo Aval, and the entire Prosecutor General’s Office have already been removed from the Odebrecht case after evidence emerged in November indicating that the chief prosecutor was informed about the corruption in 2015, when he was still working for Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Colombia’s richest man and the majority shareholder of Grupo Aval.
Martinez is being blackmailed. If he imprisons the corrupt in phases I and III of the Ruta del Sol project, Mr. [Carlos] Solarte, Mr. Andres Jaramillo, and the executives of Impregilo, they would end up denouncing Luis Carlos Sarmiento, his boss. This is why they are being released.
Senator Gustavo Petro
Ordoñez came under fire in 2017 after Semana columnist Daniel Coronell reported that the then-Inspector General had ordered his subordinates to prioritize investigations other than Odebrecht, which resulted in the investigation being dropped.
Petro’s claim is partly supported by Colombia’s Superintendency of Corporations that issued a statement in September last year, claiming that Odebrecht, Corficolombiana and others “tried to enter into an anti-competitive agreement or form a cartel with its eventual competitors, among which were Odinsa, Impregilo and Ohl” during the bidding process of the Ruta del Sol project.
Martinez strikes back with another smokescreen?
In a surprising turn of events, the Prosecutor General’s Office responded on Wednesday by formally accusing Petro of failing to report two $15,000 loans ahead of last year’s presidential elections.
Petro’s former campaign chief almost immediately said the prosecution was lying and showed that the loan had been reported before the National Electoral Council.
Señor Fiscal si ud no sabe usar el aplicativo de cuentas claras del CNE, acá le envío el anexo donde se muestra el préstamo de Blanca Azucena Mendoza pic.twitter.com/Um3MHzNey8
— Blanca Duran (@blancaduranh) January 9, 2019
According to the prosecution, it found evidence of the alleged irregularity while investigating fraud claims hurled at Petro by the ruling Democratic Center party during a Senate debate after Petro and other anti-corruption advocates interrogated Martinez over his alleged attempts to cover up the Odebrecht scandal.
The most recent escalation comes only days before protests are expected to be held at prosecution offices across Colombia to demand the resignation of Martinez, whose two and a half year in office have been marred by some of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s recent history.