Colombia Seeks to Oust Embattled Brazilian Construction Giant Odebrecht

Wall Street Journal WSJ-01BOGOTÁ—Colombia’s government is seeking to oust embattled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht from the country amid a growing investigation into allegations that the company bribed officials to secure massive infrastructure projects.

“We are working toward the definitive exit of Odebrecht from Colombia,” Luis Andrade, head of Colombia’s national infrastructure agency, said Wednesday. It was the government’s strongest statement since Odebrecht in a plea deal with U.S. authorities last month admitted to paying $439 million in bribes to officials in countries outside of Brazil, most of them in Latin America.

A spokesman for Odebrecht, which is under investigation in several other countries, including Panama, Ecuador and Peru, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. All three of those countries have said the company is banned from signing new public works contracts. Odebrecht said it paid $11 million to secure projects in Colombia.

Over the weekend, a former Colombian deputy transport minister plead guilty to illicit enrichment after he received $6.5 million to help Odebrecht win majority control of the Ruta del Sol II road project, the modernization of hundreds of miles of highway. Another former senator also accused of taking bribes to help secure that project denied the charges.

Mr. Andrade said his agency, which authorizes public-private works concessions, requested an arbitration court to void the road contract. Colombia hopes to later put the project up for a new round of bidding to finish construction, Mr. Andrade said. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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