Peru’s president linked in court papers to Brazil bribery scheme

By Caroline Stauffer and Mitra Taj SAO PAULO/LIMA, Feb 23 : Brazilian police have uncovered evidence that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala may have received 3 million dollar in bribes from engineering and construction conglomerate Odebrecht, according to federal court filings in Brazil.

The court papers, made public yesterday, show that documents seized from Marcelo Odebrecht, the jailed former chief executive of the Brazilian company, list 3 million dollar in expenses attributed only to “Program OH.” The expenses were unexplained and police said in the court papers it was their investigative hypothesis the initials referred to the Peruvian leader.

Humala in a statement today denied taking bribes and said he had summoned Brazil’s ambassador to his offices to demand an official explanation of the procedures in federal court in Curitiba, Brazil.

Odebrecht’s Peruvian unit denied giving political parties or authorities money improperly. Odebrecht in Brazil declined comment, saying it did not know “the terms of the inquiry.” A two-year-old investigation has revealed an elaborate scheme of price-fixing among engineering firms, allegedly led by Odebrecht, to overcharge Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, and use the excess funds to bribe officials.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is not under investigation, though the scandal has ensnared many of her political allies and Brazilians question how she failed to prevent the troubles as former chairwoman of Petrobras.

Peru’s attorney general’s office said that because of presidential immunity prosecutors would not be able to investigate Humala until after his term ends in late July.

Odebrecht has won contracts worth several billions in Peru in the past decade, including a $5 billion natural gas pipeline during Humala’s term after its sole bidding competitor was disqualified from a public auction at the last minute.

Reports linking Humala to bribery will likely hurt his already-low approval ratings during his last five months in office. Presidents in Peru cannot hold two consecutive terms and the ruling party candidate, in an upcoming election to choose Humala’s successor, is trailing far behind in polls.

Fredy Otarola, a congressman close to Humala, said suspicions of wrongdoing had no legal foundation and Humala would make himself available to clarify any doubts.

Opposition politicians in Peru called for Humala to be banned from leaving the country, meanwhile, and demanded that he give up his right to banking secrecy.

Marcelo Odebrecht himself was jailed in June and is on trial for corruption and money laundering. He has denied any wrongdoing.

/Reuters

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