November 30, 2018 / 12:19 AM / 6 months ago

Colombia court to appoint special prosecutor in Odebrecht case

BOGOTA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Colombia’s supreme court said on Thursday it will appoint a special prosecutor to handle an investigation into bribes to politicians and others by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

The appointment follows worries among some Colombians that the probe may be compromised by some authorities’ close ties to the company.

Odebrecht has been at the center of a massive graft scandal that has rippled across Latin America. In 2016, it acknowledged in a leniency deal that it had bribed officials in a dozen countries to secure public works contracts.

According to the attorney general’s office, Odebrecht’s bribes in Colombia totaled about $30 million.

Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez recused himself from the investigation last year because he served as a legal advisor to one of Odebrecht’s partners.

Vice attorney general Maria Paulina Riveros had been tasked with the case but this month asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor, after a civil society group requested she also recuse herself and back a fully independent investigation.

“After finding the disqualification of the official justified, the Supreme Court requests a three-person shortlist from President Ivan Duque so it may designate a special prosecutor to act on the documentation of bribes by Odebrecht in Colombia which the vice attorney general had been investigating,” the court said on Twitter.

The case took an unexpected turn this month when a key witness in the probe and his son died abruptly, causing a media sensation.

Fourteen people involved in the corruption scandal have been jailed in Colombia, including an ex-senator and a former transport minister.

Odebrecht, in partnership with a local company, was in charge of the construction of a highway contract worth more than $1 billion. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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