Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Odebrecht waves continue, Ecuador's VP to stand trial (Nov. 15, 2017)

Ecuador's Vice President Jorge Glas was ordered to stand trial over corruption allegations. He is the highest ranking politician to be indicted in the transnational Odebrecht bribery scandal. Prosecutors accuse Glas of taking $13.5 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant, reports the BBC. The vice president denies the charges and says they are politically motivated.

A former Odebrecht executive in Ecuador said the company paid  $33.5m in bribes since 2007 to secure infrastructure contracts in the country. Prosecutors accuse Glas and a dozen others, including the VP's uncle, of illicit association, reports El Comercio. He is accused of charging up to 1.3 percent of contracts for five public works. Evidence given by U.S. prosecutors demonstrates how an offshore account controlled by Glas' uncle received a $150,000 transfer from an Odebrecht subsidiary.

Glas and 12 other defendants could face up to 5 years in jail if convicted, reports the Associated Press.

Odebrecht executives' plea-deal testimony continues to complicate high level politicians around the region. This week Peruvian media reported that Marcelo Odebrecht told prosecutors that the company hired President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to work as a consultant a decade ago, reports Reuters

IDL Reporteros has an in-depth report on the revelations, which allege that Kuczynski was hired after his opposition to a project made him a thorn in Odebrecht's side. He was allegedly paid under the table. Odebrecht's testimony also includes allegations that Odebrecht contributed to the 2011 presidential run of Keiko Fujimori. 

In Peru, lawmakers voted last week to restrict local Odebrecht partners, part of the country's response to revelations of graft last year.The financial restrictions aim to limit the transfer of company assets abroad until civil reparations have been paid, reports Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court unanimously approved the creation of a transitional justice system to try atrocities committed during the country's long civil conflict, reports La Silla Vacía. The unified decision also gives the polemic plan political legitimacy and does not modify the structural backbone of the Jurisdicción Especial de Paz (JEP), explains the piece. The decision also clarifies that former guerrillas can indeed run for office and participate in politics. They will however have to agree to submit themselves to the JEP when it is up and running. (See Nov. 2's post.) Their decision also shields former presidents, namely Álvaro Uribe, from facing proceedings in the JEP over their policies. And runs counter to Human Rights Watch's recommendations regarding military officials' responsibility for atrocities committed under their watch. Colombian lawmakers must now approve legislation regulating the transitional justice system, reports El Tiempo.
  • A Venezuelan sovereign debt default on the horizon (see yesterday's post) is sending traditional investors running, and attracting the so-called "Vulture Funds" that specialize in in the debts of near-bankrupt nations, reports the New York Times.
  • About two million Venezuelans are estimated to have left since Hugo Chávez came into power in 1999 -- an exodus roughly double that from Cuba in the twenty years after its revolution, according to the Wall Street Journal. (No clarification regarding whether this statistic takes into account the relative populations of the two countries.) And, in the wake of violently repressed opposition protests this year and a looming debt default, the drain of the well-educated middle class is only likely to continue, argues the piece. 
  • A Venezuelan shipping magnate with close ties to the government is funding the defense of a former Mormon missionary jailed in Venezuela on accusations of stockpiling weapons. Joshua Holt's defenders say the bizarre case was set up to retaliate against the U.S. What is strange about tycoon Wilmer Ruperti's financial defense of the U.S. citizen is that he is also funding the defense of President Nicolas Maduro’s two nephews in a separate, politically-charged U.S. narcotics trial, reports the Associated Press. Though Ruperti is keeping quiet, sources indicate he believes both cases are politically motivated. "Ruperti’s seemingly contradictory positions offer a window into the tangled and often perplexing web of political and business connections that dominate decision making in Venezuela," writes Joshua Goodman.
  • Dominant northeast Mexican criminal organizations, the Gulf Cartel and los Zetas, have declined, but their rivalry continues to foment violence in the region, reports InSight Crime in a piece that analyzes the specific dynamics in different states.
  • Mexican foreign minister Luis Vidigaray reiterated that a poor NAFTA renegotiation outcome would affect other areas of U.S. - Mexican cooperation, including security and immigration, reports Bloomberg.
  • Costa Rica plays an important and growing role in the transit of South American cocaine headed for North America, Europe and beyond, reports InSight Crime, based on an investigation by local news outlet La Nación. Regional criminal networks have taken advantage of the country's strategic location and local conditions, according to the report, which also looks at negative impacts from the illicit trade on a country traditionally considered relatively secure and stable. "Multinational criminal groups, primarily Mexican and Colombian ones, have been known to have a presence in Costa Rica in the past. But the La Nación investigation underscores the importance of local support for the smooth operation of transnational criminal schemes. According to the report, foreign drug trafficking groups often subcontract Costa Ricans to help with local logistics. Costa Ricans will pick up cocaine shipments at strategic points throughout the country, particularly along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, then store and transport them domestically for re-shipment."
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer is planning a cabinet shakeup in order to muster up support for an unpopular and oft-delayed pension reform bill, reports Bloomberg. The move comes as major ally PSDB angles to exit the ruling coalition ahead of next year's elections.
  • Argentine online retail-service giant Mercadolibre is threatening to decamp from the country if a dispute with tax authority continues, reports the Wall Street Journal. The government is anxious to attract tech investment, and officials have said they will urge the tax agency to back off a plan to charge Mercado Libre about $28 million in tax benefits obtained through a law aimed at benefiting software companies.
  • A former Argentine football official, Jorge Delhon, appears to have committed suicide yesterday, just hours after being accused of taking bribes. An Argentine sports marketing executive giving testimony in a U.S. Fifa corruption trial accused Delhon of taking $2 million in payments in exchange for rights for broadcasting football games, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Uber promised to play by the rules in El Salvador, after a high level official warned that services provided by the ride-sharing company are not covered by existing regulations, reports the Associated Press. Just six months after launching in El Salvador, the service has grown to nearly 1,000 drivers and more than 33,000 users in the country. A bill in Congress would allow for Uber-like services.

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