Odebrecht admits illegal campaign financing of Venezuela's Maduro

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Odebrecht corruption scandal, which has swept up Latin American politicians and executives over the past year, is closing in on Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro.

Odebrecht's Venezuela country manager Euzenando Azevedo admitted to paying at least US$35mn in campaign contributions for President Maduro's candidacy in 2013, following a pattern repeated in many Latin American nations.

Start your 15 day free trial now!


Already a subscriber? Please, login

Odebrecht, which in December admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to secure contracts across Latin America, has been involved in the region's largest infrastructure projects including the Caracas, Lima and Quito metro lines, Colombian highways and natural gas pipelines in Argentina.

Other Venezuelan projects included bridges over the Orinoco River and Lake Maracaibo, the expansion of Caracas' Simón Bolívar airport, the Caracas-Guatire railway, the 2,160MW Tocoma hydroelectric project, the El Tablazo and Chorrito sewerage treatment plants and the Puerto La Cruz oil terminal, according to Odebrecht's website.

Américo Mata, an alleged representative of Maduro and former head of the country's rural development institute (Inder), originally demanded US$50mn during a meeting at a Venezuelan delicatessen, Azevedo said in a video of his supposed testimony in Brazil.

"He asked for a large amount for that time," Azevedo said in the video posted by Venezuela's deposed attorney general Luisa Ortega. "I accepted and agreed to pay him US$35mn during the campaign. We had a very large operation in Venezuela."

An outspoken critic of Maduro's regime, Ortega fled Venezuela in August after she was ousted from office, claiming political persecution.

Venezuela's presidential website and state news agency AVN made no reference to the accusations, which come ahead of the October 15 regional elections.

The accusations come amidst the detention of a slew of former Latin American government officials on corruption charges this year, including the former presidents of Peru and Panama and Ecuador's vice president, while former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Maduro's regime has become increasingly isolated as government officials from 16 countries in the Western Hemisphere branded him a dictator and imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions in August, while the Mercosur trade bloc suspended Venezuela as a trading partner. The measures came after Maduro replaced the country's democratically elected congress with a national constituent assembly created in July amidst claims of fraud.

Venezuela, where anti-government protests have left over 160 dead and over 1,000 injured this year, is struggling to cope with shortages of food and medicines, electricity and potable water cuts, spiraling hyperinflation and rising crime.

The Venezuelan crisis has become more acute since 2014 due to slumping prices of crude oil, which accounts for 95% of the country's export revenue. Venezuela, a member of OPEC which holds the world's highest crude oil reserves, has seen oil production dwindle to an estimated 1.9Mbbl/d from levels of over 3Mbbl/d in 1997.

Maduro, a former bus driver, rose to power as an ally of the late former president Hugo Chávez, who began his socialist revolution in 1999. Maduro succeeded Chávez upon his death in 2013.