HomeNewsAnalysisMysterious Deaths, Threats and Skulduggery Surround Odebrecht Investigation

Mysterious Deaths, Threats and Skulduggery Surround Odebrecht Investigation


A number of whistleblowers in the Odebrecht corruption scandal have died under mysterious circumstances, and now a prosecutor in Peru says that a witness who reported a million-dollar bribe to a former president has received death threats.

Peruvian prosecutor José Domingo Pérez alleges that investigators and witnesses are facing threats from a “radical group” dubbed the “Fuerza de Choque,” or “Shock Force,” within the South American nation’s American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (Partido Aprista Peruano -- APRA) political party, EFE reported.

“It’s a radical group looking to frighten and intimidate those who can testify in favor of the Attorney General’s Office," said Pérez, adding that authorities cannot continue the investigation until members of this supposed group are identified, according to EFE.

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profile

Peruvian businessman Miguel Atala Herrera was the alleged target of the threats. He had reportedly testified about a million-dollar bribe that former Peru President Alan García -- an APRA leader for decades -- allegedly accepted from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction conglomerate at the heart of the investigation, according to El Comercio. Authorities have since opened an investigation into the matter.

The alleged threats come weeks after García shot and killed himself just as authorities were prepared to arrest him in connection to the extensive bribery investigation. Odebrecht allegedly paid corrupt officials in Peru about $29 million in relation to more than 20 public works projects.

Fall out from the corruption case has rocked Peru’s political class.

In March 2018, former Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski became the first serving Latin American head of state to resign due to the wave of accusations linked to the case. Keiko Fujimori, founder and president of the right-wing Popular Force (Fuerza Popular – FP) political party, is also accused of receiving illicit campaign funds from Odebrecht. Former President Alejandro Toledo is also wanted for allegedly accepting some $20 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant.

InSight Crime Analysis

As the corruption scandal has swept across Latin America, a number of investigators, government officials and key witnesses working on the case have found themselves in a precarious position: either stay silent and let the wheels of corruption keep on turning, or take the risks that come with exposing the misdeeds of some of the region’s most powerful people.

In Colombia, at least four individuals key to the Odebrecht investigation have either died mysteriously or been seriously injured.

Jorge Arango, one of three arbitrators working to resolve issues with a contract between Odebrecht and Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency (Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura -- ANI), died of a heart attack in August 2018. This contract was reportedly the cornerstone of Odebrecht-related investigations against public officials in Colombia, according to El Tiempo.

Arango isn’t the only individual connected to Odebrecht to suddenly die from health problems.

Auditor Jorge Enrique Pizano was a critical witness for Colombian prosecutors. He had reportedly uncovered suspicious payments regarding a highway project involving Colombia’s largest banking group and Odebrecht. Pizano also recorded discussions of contract irregularities with Colombia Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez, who was an attorney for a small partner company of Odebrecht at the time. Pizano, who was suffering from cancer and ultimately died of a heart attack, provided the recordings to a news station on the condition that they would only be broadcast in the event of his death.

SEE ALSO: Major Odebrecht Corruption Cases and Investigations in 2019

Days after Pizano’s death, his son, Alejandro Pizano Ponce de León, traveled to Bogotá from Spain for his funeral. At the family home where his dad died, the younger Pizano took a drink from a bottle of water sitting on his father’s desk. He soon turned intensely ill and died en route to the hospital from what later turned out to be cyanide poisoning.

Later in December of that same year, another key witness, Rafael Merchán, turned up dead from an alleged suicide. It was later discovered that he too had traces of cyanide in his system. Merchán was to testify in favor of* former ANI President Luis Fernando Andrade to help clear up alleged irregularities in contracts signed with Odebrecht, according to El Espectador.

In another suspicious incident last year, Amparo Cerón Ojeda, Colombia’s lead prosecutor on the case, was gravely injured in a serious car accident in Chile. Prior to the accident, Cerón Ojeda had charged several officials and was investigating members of Congress in connection to the bribery scheme.

While nobody has yet to be accused or convicted of any crimes in connection to these curious deaths and bizarre incidents, controversy and speculation has swirled around them. At the very least, being a witness or investigator in this case seems hazardous to your health.

*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Merchán was going to testify against ANI President Luis Fernando Andrade.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COCAINE / 22 SEP 2022

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro has lambasted decades of US anti-drug policy at the United Nations General Assembly.


The arrest and possible extradition of a former Honduras police chief suspected of drug trafficking could provide explosive evidence in…

BAGDAD / 9 SEP 2021

As Panama struggles to contain an ever-growing flow of cocaine, a recent operation has revealed the extent to which officials…

About InSight Crime


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…