New evidence suggests Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro gave multimillion-dollar public contracts to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in exchange for millions of dollars in campaign funds, another indication of the massive scale of the graft the company engaged in with the complicity of Latin American elites.
According to documents and witness testimony obtained by the Brazilian news outlet Estadão, Maduro awarded more than $4 billion to the Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht for public works projects that were ultimately never finished in exchange for $35 million in donations for his 2013 presidential campaign. According to Estadão, Maduro's signature appears on documents providing hard evidence of this corrupt relationship.
Estadão reported that Maduro was the one to initiate contact with Odebrecht. In testimony given to federal prosecutors in Brazil, Euzenando Azevedo, Odebrecht's former top official in Venezuela, reportedly stated that Maduro's campaign manager Américo Mata approached him asking for $50 million to support Maduro's 2013 run. Azevedo reportedly agreed to pay $35 million in contributions, and conditioned the funding on the Venezuelan government's release of regular payments to Odebrecht related to public works projects.
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Maduro allegedly gave “priority” to the millions of dollars needed to cover the public projects just one month after taking office, according to Estadão. In the wake of falling oil prices and persistent economic mismanagement, some state contractors in Venezuela weren't getting paid on time or at all. Odebrecht's bribes to Maduro were apparently aimed at putting the company at the front of the line.
The multimillion-dollar projects given to Odebrecht included upgrading and expanding certain parts of public transportation systems in the capital city of Caracas, and making improvements to existing roads and other infrastructure.
However, many of these projects never progressed. As of May 2017, 23 of the 32 multimillion-dollar projects awarded to Odebrecht in Venezuela were either stalled or unfinished. According to Reuters, the project involving Caracas’ metro system, which started in 2007 and was expected to be completed by 2011, is just 23 percent finished.
As InSight Crime previously reported, delays in construction and associated surcharges were part of the company's modus operandi and a broader scheme used throughout the region to increase its illicitly earned profits.
Odebrecht is at the heart of Latin America’s biggest ongoing corruption scandal and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes across the region in order to secure public works contracts. The $98 million that Odebrecht reportedly paid in bribes to officials in Venezuela was the highest amount paid to any Latin American government outside of Brazil, according to a US Justice Department tally.
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The revelations about the relationship between Odebrecht and the Maduro administration in Venezuela provide another stark example of how the company abetted huge graft schemes involving some of the region's most criminalized governments.
The Maduro administration has deepened already widespread corruption among top echelons of Venezuela's government. A slew of top officials, including Maduro and his vice president, Tareck El Aissami, have been sanctioned by the United States based on allegations of human rights abuses and criminality.
At the same time, it's unlikely that Maduro will be ousted by the accusations regarding his relationship with Odebrecht, given the way his administration has consolidated political power and control in Venezuela.
The Odebrecht corruption scandal has also hit elites in other countries in Latin America. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski recently became the first sitting Latin American head of state to resign as a result of the scandal. Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and several top officials from the Dominican Republic, among others, have also been embroiled in the scandal.