Peru's president is in trouble over Odebrecht payments

AP News
Posted: Dec 13, 2017 10:06 PM
Peru's president is in trouble over Odebrecht payments

LIMA, Peru (AP) — President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski found himself in hot water Wednesday over previously undisclosed payments that he received a decade ago as a consultant to a giant Brazilian construction company at the center of Latin America's biggest graft scandal.

Kuczynski as recently as November had vehemently denied any professional or political ties to Odebrecht even as wagged his finger at three predecessors facing criminal charges for taking millions in bribes from the company.

But on Wednesday opposition lawmakers revealed documents from Odebrecht showing that his financial consulting business, Westfield Capital, received $782,000 in payments between 2004 and 2007 from two consortiums led by the Brazilian company.

Making matters worse, several of the payments to Westfield were made when Kuczynski was serving as economy minister or prime minister in the 2001 to 2006 government of President Alejandro Toledo.

Authorities across Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking some $800 million in bribes from Odebrecht, which the company acknowledged making in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. Used to win business in 12 countries, the bribes included some $29 million paid in Peru for projects built during the administrations of Toledo and two of his successors.

There was no indication whether Kuczynski broke any laws with the payments he received.

But he sounded on the defensive in a two-minute televised address Wednesday night from the presidential palace. He acknowledged receiving the payments and said he would meet with a congressional committee investigating payments from Odebrecht to political leaders, reversing an earlier decision to shun lawmakers' request.

The 79-year-old former Wall Street investor said that in five decades in business he earned his compensation honorably and that as a public official he never favored any particular business.

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"I'm ready to clarify everything that needs to be clarified before congress and the public prosecutor's office, as I have nothing to hide," he said.

Kuczynski has also acknowledged working for another consulting business, First Capital, which received over $4 million in payments from an Odebrecht-owned irrigation project and other companies between 2005 and 2013.

The documents detailing the date and amount of dozens of payments to Westfield and First Capital were provided by Odebrecht in response to lawmakers' request.

Kuczynski was elected president in 2016 after a lucrative career in business in part on his pledge to clean up corruption. As a sitting president he is immune from prosecution.