Brazil's Odebrecht paid Colombian rebels protection money: report

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazil's scandal-ridden construction giant Odebrecht paid FARC guerrillas hundreds of thousands of dollars to refrain from attacking their Colombian construction sites, the weekly Veja reported Saturday.

Two company executives acknowledged during a corruption probe in Brazil that Odebrecht made payments of between $50,000 and $100,000 a month in exchange for "permits" to build in territory held by the Colombian rebels, the Brazilian magazine reported.

Odebrecht began the payments in the 1990s after Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas kidnapped two Odebrecht executives.

The Brazilian conglomerate hired a US negotiating team that got the executives released, and then suggested regular payments as a way to prevent such problems in the future, Veja said.

The FARC considered the payments a "guerrilla tax," while the payments appeared on Odebrecht's books as "operating costs" or "territorial tribute."

The agreement allowed Odebrecht to complete a highway more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) long linking central Colombia with its Caribbean coastline, as well as other projects.

Odebrecht, one of Latin America's largest building conglomerates, was at the heart of a scheme to bribe Brazilian state oil company Petrobras in exchange for inflated contracts.

Seventy-seven company executives have signed plea bargains with Brazilian prosecutors involved in the "Car Wash" probe and detailed their roles in the scheme. The testimony remains sealed, but is expected to send shockwaves through Brazilian politics when released.

Odebrecht also systematically bribed politicians, mostly in Brazil but also across a string of other countries, even running a department to keep track of the bribery.

Odebrecht admitted to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries and agreed with the US Justice Department to pay a $3.5 billion fine, a world record in foreign corruption cases.

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